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The US is investigating Tesla’s autopilot, steering wheels that can come off | National


DETROIT (AP) — U.S. safety regulators are upping the ante on Tesla by announcing an investigation into the steering wheels of some SUVs and a fatal crash involving a Tesla suspected of using an automated control system when it crashed into a parked fire engine in California.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday it is launching a special crash investigation team disaster on February 18 featuring a Tesla Model S and ladder truck from the Contra Costa County Fire Department.

The fire truck investigation is part of the agency’s broader investigation into multiple cases in which Teslas using the automaker’s Autopilot system crashed into parked ambulances involved in other crashes. Last year, NHTSA became more aggressive about Tesla’s safety issues, announcing multiple recalls and investigations.

The driver of the 2014 Tesla Model S was killed in the accident, and the passenger was seriously injured. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries and a $1.4 million escalator was damaged.

NHTSA is investigating how the Autopilot system works detects and responds to emergency vehicles parked on the highway. At least 14 Teslas have crashed into emergency vehicles across the country while using the system.

Automated driving systems are not always involved in crashes where NHTSA directs investigators. For example, the Ohio State Highway Patrol determined that the Tesla that crashed into one of its patrol cars in November was not operating “in any type of autonomous mode.”

Authorities said the California fire truck had its headlights on and was parked diagonally across the highway to protect people responding to an earlier accident that did not result in injuries.

Lewis Broshard III, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Chief, said his department is concerned about the risks distracted drivers pose to themselves, passengers and first responders.

“These unnecessary deaths, injuries, risks to firefighters and loss of valuable equipment are all preventable,” he said, urging drivers to slow down and pull over for emergency vehicles.

“Recent reports of vehicles that may have been operating automated control systems crashing into parked emergency vehicles at the scene of an accident raise serious concerns for the safety of our firefighters and paramedics, as well as the public we serve,” Rob Brown -junior, general director. International Association of Fire Chiefs, says the email.

An NHTSA spokeswoman said she could not comment on an open investigation when asked whether Teslas pose a danger to emergency responders.

NHTSA has scrutinized Teslas more intensively in the past year, pursuing several recalls and opening investigations.

Earlier Wednesday, the agency released documents showing research into steering wheels that could detach from the steering column on 120,000 Model Y SUVs.

The agency said it received two complaints in which 2023 Y models were delivered to customers with a missing bolt that attached the wheel to the steering column. A friction fit held the rudders in place, but they separated when force was applied while the SUVs were in motion.

This is reported by the agency in documents posted on their website Wednesday that both incidents occurred when the SUVs had low mileage.

In one complaint filed with NHTSA, the owner said he was driving with his family to Woodbridge, New Jersey, when the steering wheel suddenly came off on January 29, five days after purchasing the vehicle. The owner wrote that he was able to drive towards the dividing road. There was no damage.

It was a “terrible experience,” the car’s owner, Prerak Patel, told The Associated Press. He said he was in the left lane of the freeway when the steering came off and was lucky the road was straight and he was able to stop the car at the divider.

Messages were left seeking comment from Austin, Texas-based Tesla.TEsla

At first, the Tesla service center gave Patel an estimate of $103.96 to fix the problem. The service center apologized in a text message posted on Twitter.

When Patel wrote that he had lost faith in Tesla and asked for a refund, the service center removed the fee.

Later, Patel was given the option to keep the car or trade it in for a new one. Patel said he chose a replacement.

Patel said he is a fan of Tesla CEO Elon Musk and has invested a significant portion of his savings in Tesla shares, which fell 3% on Wednesday.

“My kids were a little scared to drive the rental Tesla, and as parents, we can restore their confidence,” Patel said. He said he hopes Tesla will investigate and improve quality control.

Individual handlebars are rare in the industry, but not unheard of. In February, Nissan recalled about 1,000 Ariya electric vehicles due to a similar problem.

NHTSA has also been investigating Teslas for the past three years sudden braking for no reason, suspension problems and other problems.

In February, NHTSA pressured Tesla to force a recall nearly 363,000 vehicles with “Full Self-Driving” software. because the system may violate traffic laws. The system is being tested on public roads by about 400,000 Tesla owners. But NHTSA said in the filing that it can do dangerous things, such as driving straight through an intersection out of a turning lane, running a yellow light without due care, or failing to respond to speed limit changes.

The The US Department of Justice also asked Tesla for documents from Tesla on “full self-driving” and autopilot.

Tesla’s owner’s manual says neither Autopilot nor “fully autonomous driving” can control the car, and that owners must be prepared to intervene at any time.

NHTSA has sent investigators to 35 Tesla crashes in which automated systems are believed to have been used. Nineteen people died in these accidents, including two motorcyclists.

AP writers Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco and John Seaver in Toledo, Ohio contributed to this story.


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