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Tesla faces another US investigation: Unexpected braking

DETROIT (AP) – United States (US) auto safety regulators have launched another investigation of Tesla, this time tied to complaints that its cars can stop on roads for no
apparent reason.

The government said it has 354 complaints from owners during the past nine months about “phantom braking” in Tesla Models 3 and Y. The probe covers an estimated 416,000 vehicles from the 2021 and 2022 model years.

No crashes or injuries were reported.

The vehicles are equipped with partially automated driver-assist features such as adaptive cruise control and “Autopilot”, which allows them to automatically brake and steer within their lanes.

Documents posted on Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the vehicles can unexpectedly brake at highway speeds.

“Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, and often repeatedly during a single drive cycle,” the agency said. Many owners in the complaints said they feared a rear-end crash on a freeway.

The probe is another in a string of enforcement efforts by the agency that include Autopilot and ‘Full Self-Driving’ software. Despite their names, neither feature can drive the vehicles without people supervising.

Messages were left on Thursday seeking comment from Tesla.

It’s the fourth formal investigation of the Texas automaker in the past three years, and NHTSA is supervising 15 Tesla recalls since January of 2021. In addition, the agency has sent investigators to at least 33 crashes involving Teslas using driver-assist systems since 2016 in which 11 people were killed.

In one of the complaints, a Tesla owner from Austin, Texas, reported that a Model Y on Autopilot brakes repeatedly for no reason on two-lane roads and freeways.

“The phantom braking varies from a minor throttle response to decrease speed to full emergency braking that drastically reduces the speed at a rapid pace, resulting in unsafe driving conditions for occupants of my vehicle as well as those who might be following behind me,” the owner wrote in a complaint filed February 2. People who file complaints are not identified in NHTSA’s public database.

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has been fighting with US and California government agencies for years, sparring with NHTSA and most notably with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Early on Thursday, lawyers for Musk sent a letter to a federal judge in Manhattan accusing the SEC of harassing him with investigations and subpoenas over his Twitter posts. In 2018, Musk and Tesla each agreed to pay USD20 million in civil fines over Musk’s tweets about having the money to take the company private at USD420 per share.

The funding was far from secured and the company remains public. The settlement specified governance changes, including Musk’s ouster as board chairman, as well approval of Musk’s tweets.