Federal officials reviewing ‘phantom braking’ complaints from Tesla drivers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating complaints filed by some Tesla drivers who are reporting an issue where their car is automatically hitting the brakes due to nonexistent issues, such as incoming cars on two lane roads, in a problematic phenomenon that has come to be known as “phantom braking,” The Washington Post reports.

In October, Tesla had to recall a version of its “Full Self-Driving” software due to the phantom braking issue, which the company said was triggered by a software update; however, after the version was recalled, complaints about phantom braking continued to be filed, the Post notes. 

NHTSA received at least 107 reports about phantom braking in Teslas in the past three months, reports the Post, noting that in the past 22 months prior, only 34 complaints of the same issue were filed.

Tesla began a new approach to its technology in May 2021, using a new feature called “Tesla Vision,” as opposed to the previously-used technology of radar sensors that used to work together with the vehicle’s surrounding cameras, the Post reports.

Many safety experts, and Tesla owners, believe that the phantom braking problems arose after Tesla made these updates.

“Phantom braking is what happens when the developers do not set the decision threshold properly for deciding when something is there versus a false alarm,” Phil Koopman said to The Washington Post. Koopman is a Carnegie Mellon University professor who focuses on autonomous vehicle safety.

Koopman also said to the Post, “What other companies do is they use multiple different sensors and they cross-check between them — not only multiple cameras, but multiple types of sensors,” such as radar and lidar, a type of sophisticated sensor that uses laser lights to paint a dot matrix mapping the environment.

Issues reported to NHTSA are not verified individually, as drivers report the issues to the agency, the type of vehicle they are having trouble with, and identification factors, the Post reported. 

“NHTSA is aware of complaints received about forward collision avoidance and is reviewing them through our risk-based evaluation process,” NHTSA spokeswoman Lucia Sanchez told the Post.

Tags Elon Musk Motor vehicles National Highway Traffic Safety Administration self driving cars Tesla Tesla

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