Tesla recall highlights more widespread issue

IIHS Editorial

(February 21, 2023) Tesla’s recall of nearly 363,000 vehicles equipped with what the company calls “Full Self-Driving” last week highlights a more widespread issue with the ways that partial automation systems are designed and advertised, IIHS President David Harkey said.

“The partial automation systems on vehicles today require the driver to be fully engaged in the driving task at all times and retake control when necessary,” Harkey said. “Institute research shows that drivers who use partial automation on a regular basis often treat their vehicles as fully self-driving despite widespread warnings and numerous high-profile crash reports. However, none of the current systems is designed to replace a human driver or to make it safe for a driver to perform other activities that take their focus from the road.

“Fully attentive drivers could prevent their vehicles from doing the things cited in the recall. The main problems for Tesla’s system include the misleading names of ‘Full Self Driving’ and ‘Autopilot’ and the fact that it does not have adequate safeguards to ensure drivers will pay full attention to the road.

"IIHS has been working on the development of a new safeguard ratings program to address how well partial automation vehicles will keep drivers engaged in the driving task and will begin rating vehicles later this year.”

Tesla issued a recall notice for certain Model 3, Model S, Model X and Model Y vehicles on Feb. 15 after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that the Full Self-Driving Beta system could prompt equipped vehicles to travel straight through intersections from a left- or right-turn-only lane, fail to come to a complete stop at stop signs, exceed speed limits and go through yellow lights without appropriate caution if the driver did not intercede.

Full Self-Driving is an optional software update that extends the functionality of Tesla’s core Autopilot partial automation system, which is intended primarily for use on highways.