NHTSA May Be Preparing Formal Investigation of Tesla Autopilot

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The US regulators also sent two subpoenas to Tesla, concerning crashes involving its cars.

In point of fact, latest fistful of lawsuits in claims and liabilities involving Tesla's Model 3 had jeopardized Tesla head Elon Musk's earlier quotes, while he had been quoted saying, "Model 3 was engineered to be the safest vehicle ever built".

This past fall, Tesla touted the safety rating of the Model 3, saying that NHTSA's tests showed the auto had "the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested".

The safety board removed Tesla from its regular participation in its probe of the Model X crash in March 2018, saying the company disclosed information about the case in spite of an agreement not to do so while the probe was underway. "NHTSA does not distinguish safety performance beyond that rating, thus there is no "safest" vehicle among those vehicles achieving 5-star ratings". The agency also asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the statements "constitute [d] unfair or deceptive acts or practices".

In that letter, Tesla emphasized that it was using NHTSA's own publicly available data for almost 1,000 vehicles.

The NHTSA letter, which was published by document website PlainSite on Wednesday, said that Tesla made "a number of misleading statements" on its company blog about the safety of its vehicles, including that the NHTSA's tests of the Model 3 sedan showed that "it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested".

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"Respectfully, we disagree with the agency's position", Tesla's chief legal counsel Al Prescott wrote to the NHTSA. "It is impossible to say based on the frontal crash test results or the Overall Vehicle Scores whether the Model 3 is safer than other 5-Star rated vehicles".

Keeping aside this ongoing tug of war between Elon Musk and NHTSA, no one can ignore the fact that Tesla Model 3 is an outright performer. In a vehicle-to-vehicle crash, the occupant of the heavier vehicle is less likely to be injured. Now, not only has Model 3 achieved a ideal 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category, but NHTSA's tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested. Thus, when a crash happens, the body of the heavier vehicle is able to absorb more impact caused by the collision. The family of the deceased driver sued Tesla last week.

In that letter, the company argued that its statement was "neither untrue nor misleading".

The agency said that the company was playing with the math and that it does not issue scores higher than five stars - "period".

Contacted by email, a Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter further, saying the company stood by the statements it made last October.

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