NHTSA seeks more info from Tesla in ‘phantom braking’ safety probe

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top auto safety regulator is requesting more information from Tesla Inc. to aid its investigation of certain Model 3 and Model Y vehicles equipped with Autopilot after reports alleging “phantom braking.”

NHTSA’s request comes after the agency in February opened the investigation into an estimated 416,000 Model 3 and Model Y vehicles from the 2021-22 model years after receiving 354 complaints of unexpected braking while using Autopilot’s driver-assist features.

In a letter sent May 4 to Eddie Gates, Tesla’s director of field quality, NHTSA said the number of reports of unexpected brake activation in those vehicles had increased to 758.

The agency is now seeking further details from Tesla, including any complaints or lawsuits related to the alleged defect as well as reports involving a crash, injury or death.

Tesla has until June 20 to respond, or it could face civil penalties of up to nearly $115 million.

According to the letter, posted Friday, NHTSA is asking Tesla to describe any assessments, tests, studies, simulations or similar actions that have been conducted by, or for, the automaker as it relates to the alleged defect. The agency also wants to know what hardware and software modifications have been made to the affected vehicles since the start of production.

Other requests include a detailed description of the system design and operation, including all associated sensor technologies, as well as Tesla’s assessment of the alleged defect, conditions that may result in unexpected brake activation and associated safety risks.

Tesla, which disbanded its media relations department, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The electric vehicle maker has continued to face greater regulatory scrutiny under the Biden administration.

Last year, NHTSA opened an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system after a series of crashes involving its models and emergency vehicles. The ongoing probe covers an estimated 765,000 Teslas from the 2014-21 model years. Most of the crashes occurred after dark and in total resulted in 17 injuries and one death.