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The NHTSA Wants Tesla To Declare A Recall For An Industry-Leading Software Update

By Zach Shahan and Johnna Crider

The Associated Press reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is upset over a Tesla software update to some of its vehicles. The update allowed them to detect and slow down for emergency response lights. Yes, you read that right. The transportation safety agency is unhappy Tesla is getting its vehicles to do something no other vehicles on the road can do — well, is unhappy that Tesla didn’t report this update as a “recall.”

The NHTSA is currently investigating several crashes that involved Tesla vehicles and emergency vehicles, and it thinks that Tesla is breaking a rule to help prevent such accidents in the future by deploying a software update without a recall notice.

The thing is: drivers are supposed to be responsible for their driving, not car manufacturers. Even if the manufacturer is working on a technology that would someday make human driving obsolete, today, all Tesla semi-autonomous driving features requite that a human diligently oversee the driving and intervene if needed. We’re not in robotaxi land yet, so people still need to pay attention and be careful.

A “recall” is supposed to be filed when an automaker discovers something that is unsafe about its cars that needs fixed. As noted in the tweet above, no other automaker has the feature Tesla just added — the ability for the car to identify an emergency vehicle siren and try to proceed appropriately in response, particularly useful if the driver is using semi-autonomous driving features. But was the fact that Tesla vehicles weren’t doing this before a problem/error with the cars that needed fixed? If that was the case, wouldn’t every single other vehicle on the road have the same “problem/error” — meaning all other automakers would need to issue a recall and fix this problem? Clearly, that’s not happening, so why should Tesla be required to issue a recall? And just to be clear — other automakers have cruise control, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping features that are in the same realm of “level 2” semi-autonomous driving tech as Tesla’s Autopilot.

The NHTSA penned a six-page letter to Tesla’s Director of Field Quality, Eddie Gates, and scolded Tesla for the software update. The letter cited the Safety Act as stating that automakers (Tesla included) are obligated to initiate a recall by telling the NHTSA when they determine that their vehicles have defects.

“Any manufacturer issuing an over-the-air update that mitigates a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required to timely file an accompanying recall notice to NHTSA pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 30118 and 49 C.F.R. Part 573.”

This seems like silly pettiness, as it is just a new safety feature Tesla added to make its vehicles even safer. It is adding onto what is expected from a car, not getting Tesla up to basic standards.

The NHTSA wants Tesla to give it a large amount of data to show how Tesla decided to deploy the new Emergency Light Detection Update. Included in the data are:

  • Chronology of events.
  • Internal investigations.
  • Studies leading up to the release.
  • A statement as to whether or not Tesla plans to file a safety recall with the NHTSA.

The NHTSA also wants more information about Tesla’s expansion of its Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta program, and specifically, a detailed description of all of the selection criteria used in the process. The NHTSA also wants to know how many Tesla owners pushed the button requesting FSD Beta.

You can read the full letter here.

Interestingly, Tesla shared a video this week on how it is able to engineer the safest vehicles on the road. In that video, Tesla demonstrated a technology that would make even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash testing system a bit outdated.

Tesla has long focused strongly on safety. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has emphasized that safety is the company’s top priority when designing and developing vehicles, and he confirmed that again a few days ago in a response to a CleanTechnica article.

So, it is ironic that another industry-leading safety feature is being singled out as supposedly needing a recall notice. You can’t make this stuff up.

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Written By

Johnna Crider is a Louisiana native who likes crawfish, gems, minerals, EVs, and advocates for sustainability. Johnna is also the host of, a jewelry artisan and a $TSLA shareholder.


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