Tesla cars sit on a lot at a Tesla dealership in Austin, Texas, on April 15, 2024.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is pressing tesla for answers about changes the company made to its Autopilot driver assistance system after a voluntary software recall in December that affected about 2 million vehicles in the U.S.

Tesla must meet a July 1 deadline to provide information to the regulator or face fines of up to $135.8 million, according to a letter sent from NHTSA to the company on May 6.

The recall was intended to improve Tesla’s driver engagement systems, which are used to monitor whether drivers are safely using features such as traffic-aware cruise control, lane keeping and automatic steering, part of Autopilot. Since the recall, at least 20 Tesla vehicles have been involved in crashes where the system is believed to have been used, according to submission on the NHTSA website.

The “recall” probe follows a three-year investigation by the agency that found Tesla’s Autopilot safety issues contributed to at least 467 crashes and 14 deaths from January 2018 to August 2023.

NHTSA had concluded that the drivers involved in these crashes “were not sufficiently engaged with the driving task and that the warnings provided by Autopilot when automatic steering was engaged did not adequately ensure that drivers maintained their attention on the driving task.”

Driver engagement systems, sometimes known as driver monitoring systems, in Tesla vehicles include torque sensors in the steering wheel to detect whether drivers are keeping their hands on the wheel, and in-cabin cameras that monitor the driver’s gaze. They should warn any inattentive driver to pay attention and be ready to turn or stop at any time.

NHTSA has been seeking detailed crash data from the electric vehicle maker since the agency issued the Autopilot recall update, including data and video stored in or transmitted by its cars and retained by the company.

They also want records of Tesla’s engineering teams and their approach to “decision-making to determine safety defects,” “problem investigation,” “operational design, including human factors considerations (initial and modifications),” and ” testing’.

Tesla is in the midst of a massive reorganization and massive layoffs. The company did not disclose how many jobs in its autopilot and vehicle safety engineering teams may have been cut.

For about a decade, CEO Elon Musk has been promising that Tesla is on the verge of a breakthrough in autonomous driving. As sales of Tesla’s electric cars fell in the first quarter, Musk focused investors’ attention on his dream of a future filled with Tesla’s artificial intelligence products, including robotics and “sentient” humanoid robots that can do factory work.

Tesla shares fell 3.8% on Tuesday to $177.81 and are down 28% year to date.

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