Tesla recalls more vehicles as US agency intensifies review

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla is recalling nearly 579,000 vehicles in the United States because a “Boombox” feature can play sounds over an external speaker and dim audible warnings for pedestrians.

The recall is the fourth made public in the past two weeks as U.S. safety regulators step up scrutiny of the nation’s largest electric vehicle maker. In two of the recalls, Tesla made decisions that violate federal motor vehicle safety standards, while the others are software errors.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website Thursday that cars and SUVs have what Tesla calls a “Boombox” feature that lets drivers play sounds while the vehicles are moving. This violates federal safety standards that require pedestrian warning noises for electric cars, which make low noise when traveling, according to the agency.

The agency says the issue will be fixed with an over-the-air software update that will disable “Boombox”, reverse or neutral.

“The Boombox feature allows a customer to play preset or custom sounds through the external PWS (pedestrian warning system) speaker when the vehicle is parked or in motion,” NHTSA says in documents posted on its site. website. “While Boombox and pedestrian alert sound are mutually exclusive sounds, sounds played using Boombox could be interpreted as obscuring or preventing the PWS from complying” with safety standards, the agency wrote.

The recall affects certain 2020-2022 Tesla Model X, S and Y vehicles, as well as 2017-2022 Model 3s, records show.

A message was left Thursday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department. The company is not aware of any accidents or injuries due to the issue, NHTSA said.

Tesla activated Boombox with a software update in December 2020, NHTSA said in documents. The agency began requesting information from Tesla in January 2021, and Tesla explained the feature and claimed it met US safety standards. In September 2021, NHTSA launched an investigation into the feature. A month later, Tesla defended its rationale for determining that Boombox met safety standards. But on January 29 of this year, the company decided to issue a recall and deactivate Bombox in drive, neutral and reverse.

NHTSA said that in 2010, Congress required electric and hybrid vehicles to make warning noises for pedestrians. The law required the agency’s rules to prevent manufacturers from allowing anyone other than an automaker or dealer to “disable, alter, replace or modify the pedestrian alert sound or sound set.”

Tuesday’s recall is Tesla’s 15th since January 2021, according to NHTSA records. Additionally, the security agency has opened several investigations into Teslas.

Last week, Tesla had to recall nearly 54,000 vehicles equipped with “Full Self-Driving” software that allowed vehicles to drive through stop signs at low speeds, without coming to a complete stop. Some Tesla owners are “beta testing” the software on public roads, but the cars can’t drive themselves despite the name.

The company has also had to recall over 800,000 vehicles because seat belt reminder chimes may not sound when vehicles are started and the driver is unbuckled. And this week, nearly 27,000 vehicles were recalled because the cabin heating systems may not defrost the windshield quickly enough. All were to be fixed with online software updates.

Safety advocates and automated vehicle experts say Tesla is pushing safety boundaries to see what it can do, but now NHTSA is pushing back.

Additionally, after an NHTSA investigation in December, Tesla disabled a feature that allowed drivers to play video games on central touchscreens while vehicles were moving.

In November, NHTSA said it was looking into a complaint from a California Tesla driver that “Full Self-Driving” software caused a crash. The driver complained to the agency that a Model Y had pulled into the wrong lane and was hit by another vehicle. The SUV gave the driver an alert halfway through the turn, and the driver attempted to steer to avoid other vehicles, according to the complaint. But the car took control and “forced itself into the wrong lane”, the driver reported. No one was injured in the Nov. 3 crash.

NHTSA is also investigating why Teslas using the company’s less sophisticated “Autopilot” partially automated driver assistance system repeatedly crashed into emergency vehicles parked on the roads. The agency opened the investigation in August, citing 12 crashes in which Teslas on Autopilot hit parked police and fire vehicles. In the crashes under investigation, at least 17 people were injured and one was killed.

Last week, Tesla said in its earnings release that the “Full Self-Driving” software is currently being tested by owners of nearly 60,000 vehicles in the United States. It was only around 2,000 in the third quarter. The software, which costs $12,000, will accelerate Tesla’s profitability, the company said.

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