Tesla is recalling nearly all 2 million of its cars on US roads to limit the use of its Autopilot feature following a two-year probe by US safety regulators of about 1,000 crashes in which the feature was engaged.
The recall was disclosed in a letter to Tesla posted by NHTSA, which said that Tesla had agreed to the software update that would limit the use of the Autosteer feature if a driver repeatedly fails to demonstrate he or she is ready to resume control of the car while the feature is on.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the Autopilot system can give drivers a false sense of security and be easily misused in certain dangerous situations when a Tesla's technology may be unable to safely navigate the road. The over-the-air software update will give Tesla drivers more warnings when they are not paying attention to the road while the Autopilot's "Autosteer" function is turned on. Those notifications will remind drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road, according to a statement from NHTSA
The recall comes two days after a detailed investigation was published by the Washington Post that found at least eight serious accidents, including some fatalities, in which the Autopilot feature should not have been engaged in the first place.
Tesla's owner's manuals say: "Autosteer is intended for use only on highways and limited-access roads with a fully attentive driver." But the company has pushed the idea that its driver-assist features allow the cars to safely make most driving decisions even away from those roads.
A NHTSA investigation, however, has found numerous accidents over the past several years that suggest that these features do not live up to their names of Autopilot and Full Self Driving.
The safety regulator in its letter to Tesla said "In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature's controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse [of the feature.]" It said that when drivers are not fully engaged and ready to take control of the car "there may be an increased risk of a crash."
In addition to the software updates, Tesla will mail letters to car owners notifying them of the change.