The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation into Tesla electric cars, following a slew of complaints about “phantom braking,” in which the vehicles unexpectedly brake for no reason. According to a report by the New York Times, the NHTSA had received 354 complaints about the phenomenon.
The regulator will reportedly examine “Tesla Model 3 compact sedans and Model Y hatchbacks that were made in 2021 and 2022 and sold in the United States,” according to the Times. These parameters describe an estimated 416,000 vehicles, per a public document released by the NHTSA. That documents states that the complaints it received “allege that while utilizing the ADAS features including adaptive cruise control, the vehicle unexpectedly applies its brakes while driving at highway speeds. Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, at random, and often repeatedly in a single drive cycle.”
The Times report notes that this investigation fits into a broader pattern of safety issues plaguing the electric automaker run by billionaire Elon Musk. Earlier this year, the company “recalled 54,000 cars equipped with its Full Self-Driving software” in order to address a software feature that allowed rolling stops. It has also recalled hundreds of thousands of vehicles, both to address a braking issue in some units and “mechanical defects” in others. In 2021 the NHTSA launched a probe into the company’s Autopilot feature after “11 incidents in which Teslas operating in Autopilot failed to stop for and crashed into police cars, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles that had flashing lights turned on.”
As trade publication Car and Driver observed, other car manufacturers are under scrutiny for phantom braking issues in their vehicles. EasyMile, an “autonomous shuttle operators,” had to halt its operations in 2020 after a passenger sustained an injury in a phantom braking incident. A year before that, Nissan came under NHTSA scrutiny when drivers complained about phantom braking in its 2017 and 2018 Nissan Rogue SUV models.