Tesla is recalling nearly 54,000 cars and SUVs because their “Full Self-Driving” software allows them to drive through stop signs without coming to a complete stop.
The recall shows Tesla has programmed its vehicles to break the law in most states, where police will ticket drivers for ignoring stop signs. The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices, said it is not aware of any states where a rolling stop is legal.
Tesla agreed to the recall after two meetings with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials, documents show. Tesla said in documents it was not aware of any accidents or injuries caused by a feature.
The recall affects Model S sedans and X SUVs from 2016 to 2022, as well as Model 3 sedans from 2017 to 2022 and Model Y SUVs from 2020 to 2022.
Selected Tesla drivers “beta test” the “Full Self-Driving” software on public roads. The company says cars cannot drive themselves and drivers must be ready to act at all times.
A firmware version to disable rolling stops should be sent in early February.
Tesla, which has dissolved its media relations department, did not comment on Tuesday.
According to NHTSA, failing to stop at a sign can increase the risk of a crash. “The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with defects that pose unreasonable safety risks, including intentional design choices that are unsafe,” the agency said. “If the information shows that a safety risk may exist, NHTSA will act immediately.”
Tesla introduced the “rolling stop” feature in a software update that was sent to test owners on October 20, 2020. NHTSA met with Tesla on January 10 and 19 of this year to discuss how the software works, according to the documents. On January 20, the company agreed to disable rolling stops with the software update.
The “rolling stop” feature allows Teslas to drive through stop signs in any direction as long as the owner has enabled the feature. Vehicles must be under 5.6 mph approaching the intersection, and no “relevant” moving cars, pedestrians or cyclists can be detected nearby. All roads leading to the intersection were to have speed limits of 30 mph or less, according to the documents. The Teslas would then be allowed to cross the intersection at 0.1 mph to 5.6 mph without coming to a complete stop.
Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said 4-way stop signs are typically placed to protect intersections for children when no school crossing guard is present. He said Tesla’s “machine learning” system could mistakenly identify objects. “What happens when the FSD decides that a child crossing the street is not ‘relevant’ and does not stop?” He asked. “This is dangerous behavior and should never have been put into vehicles.”
Koopman said going through a stop sign at 5.6 mph is the same as treating it like a yield sign.
Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Safety Association, said he’s not surprised Tesla has programmed vehicles to break state laws. “They keep pushing the boundaries of security to see what they can do, and they’ve really pushed hard,” he said. “Each time, it’s just a little more blatant. Good to see NHTSA pushing back.
The automaker should make safety a priority “not taking advantage of some of our worst behaviors on the road,” Adkins said.
CEO Elon Musk said he would be shocked if software couldn’t drive safer than humans this year. In 2019, Musk predicted a fleet of autonomous Tesla robots on the roads by the end of 2020.
Shares of Tesla, down more than 20% since peaking at $1,229.91 on Nov. 4, fell about 1% on Tuesday.