The NHTSA Will Review a Petition to Investigate Sudden Acceleration Complaints on Tesla Vehicles

The NHTSA Will Review a Petition to Investigate Sudden Acceleration Complaints on Tesla Vehicles

Author: Eric Walz   

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Friday it will review a petition asking the agency to formally investigate and recall 500,000 Tesla electric vehicles, including the Model 3, over sudden acceleration reports. 

The petition covers the 2012 through 2019 model year Tesla Model S, 2016-2019 Tesla Model X SUV, and 2018-2019 Tesla Model 3 vehicles, the agency said. 

The petition cites "127 consumer complaints to the NHTSA involving 123 unique vehicles. The reports include 110 crashes and 52 injuries," the agency added.

Late Friday, the NHTSA released a redacted version of the full petition that stated "Tesla vehicles experience unintended acceleration at rates far exceeding other cars on the roads" and urged the NHTSA "to recall all Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles produced from 2013 to the present."

The petition cited media reports of crashes attributed to unintended acceleration and complaints filed with NHTSA.

Tesla declined to comment on the petition.

Sudden Unintended Acceleration

The complaints from Tesla owners are all very similar and most of them occurred when drivers were trying to park their vehicles. However, some drivers complained claimed the sudden acceleration happened while in traffic or while using Tesla's automated driving system Autopilot, which led to crashes. 

Tesla's Autopilot system controls the steering, braking and acceleration when activated, however its not considered to be a full "self-driving" system.

One of the more alarming complaints occurred in California when a Tesla Model S was parked and locked. The owner of a 2015 Tesla Model S 85D claimed that "a few moments later the vehicle started accelerating forward towards the street and crashed into a parked car."

In another incident, a Tesla driver in Pennsylvania was pulling into a parking spot at a school when the vehicle suddenly accelerated on its own, the complaint said adding: "It went over a curb and into a chain link fence."

Another Tesla driver in Massachusetts was approaching her garage door "when the car suddenly lurched forward and "went through the garage door destroying two garage doors." she said. The Tesla only stopped when it hit the garage's concrete wall.

In August 2016, a Tesla crashed into this gym in Florida. The driver cited "sudden acceleration" as the cause. However, Tesla remotely accessed the vehicle's logs and said the driver pressed the accelerator.

Separately, NHTSA said it was reviewing whether Tesla should have recalled 2,000 of its electric cars in May instead of issuing a software upgrade to fix a potential defect that could have resulted in battery fires in Model S and Model X vehicles from the 2012-2019 model years.

As reported by Reuters, the 2,000 vehicles covered by the September petition to the NHTSA received a battery management software upgrade in May 2019 in response to a potential flaw that could trigger non-crash-related fires. 

Tesla said the OTA software update addresses the thermal management system for the battery pack so its stays cooler. However some owners claimed the update decreased their vehicle's range.

A lawyer who filed the petition, Edward Chen, told Reuters in October that he strongly believes "this number is much larger than 2,000." The review is ongoing.

Last week, the NHTSA said it was probing the Dec. 29 crash in Indiana when a Tesla Model 3 collided with a parked fire truck on Interstate 70 in Indiana. The crash killed the driver's wife who was a passenger in the vehicle.

The crash in Indiana is the 14th incident being investigated by NHTSA's special crash investigation program, which looks into incidents involving Tesla's Autopilot automated driving system and whether or not it was in use at the time of the crash.

On Feb. 25, the National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to meet on February 25 to determine the probable cause of a well-publicized 2018 crash of a Tesla Model X in Mountain View, California. The driver was traveling on the busy 101 Freeway while using Autopilot when his vehicle crashed into a steel barrier and divider separating lanes of traffic.

In 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter saying that the majority of complaints filed with the NHTSA were found to be fraudulent, suggesting that the complaints were part of a broad conspiracy to discredit Tesla. His claims however are unsubstantiated.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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