U.S. opens safety probe into Autopilot crashes

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WASHINGTON, Aug 16 - U.S. auto safety regulators said early Monday they had opened a formal safety probe into Tesla Inc's driver assistance system Autopilot after a series of crashes involving emergency vehicles.

Since January 2018 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it has 11 crashes in which Tesla Models have encountered first responder scenes and subsequently hit one or more vehicles involved with those scenes. It said it had reports of 17 deaths in those crashes and one injury.

NHTSA said the 11 crashes this year, mostly one last month in San Diego, and that it had opened a preliminary evaluation of Autopilot in 2014-2021 in Tesla Models Y, X, S, and 3.

The subject vehicles were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control during the approach of the crashes, NHTSA said in a document opening the investigation.

The probe covers an estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles in the United States, NHTSA said in opening the investigation.

In recent years, NHTSA has sent various individual crash investigator teams to review a series of individual Tesla crashes.

It added that most incidents took place after dark and the scene control measures encountered included the following incident controls, including first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones:

NHTSA said that its investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist and enforce the driver's engagement with dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation.

Automated driver, which handles some driving tasks and allows drivers to keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods of time, is operating in at least three Tesla vehicles involved in fatal U.S. crash since 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The NTSB has criticized Tesla's failure to introduce system safeguards for Autopilot.

Tesla was not immediately responding to a request for comment.

In June, NHTSA said it had sent teams to review 30 Tesla crashes involving 10 deaths since 2016 where it is suspected advanced driver assistance systems were suspected of use.