US agency examining Tesla unintended acceleration complaint

DETROIT (AP) — The United States (US) government’s auto safety agency is looking into allegations that all three of Tesla’s electric vehicle models can suddenly accelerate on their own.

Brian Sparks of Berkeley, California, petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asking for an investigation. An agency document shows 127 owner complaints to the government that include 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

The agency said it will look into allegations that cover about 500,000 Tesla vehicles including Model 3, Model S and Model X vehicles from the 2013 through 2019 model years. The agency’s investigations office will evaluate the petition and decide if it should open a formal probe.

“I am concerned that these complaints reflect a systemic defect that has not been investigated by NHTSA,” Sparks wrote to James Owens, the acting NHTSA administrator. “I am also concerned that these potential defects represent risk to the safety of Tesla drivers, their passengers, and the public.”

Messages were left on Friday seeking comment from Tesla.

NHTSA is already investigating three December crashes involving Tesla vehicles in which three people were killed. The agency’s special crash investigations unit sent teams to Gardena, California, and near Terre Haute, Indiana, to probe two fatal crashes. Another crash in Connecticut also is under investigation.

Frank Borris, a former head of safety defect investigations for NHTSA, said the number of complaints cited in the petition is unusual and warrants further investigation.

“The sheer number of complaints would certainly catch my eye,” said Borris, who now runs an auto safety consulting business.

Tesla owners communicate with other owners on Internet forums and social media, and that could influence the number of complaints, he said.

He said the timing of the petition is good, because the agency needs to do a “deeper dive” into Tesla safety.

Some of the unintended acceleration complaints, which have yet to be verified by NHTSA, allege that the cars’ electronics malfunctioned.

In his 69-page petition, Sparks analyzed the complaints to NHTSA and determined that many of the crashes happened while drivers were parking the Teslas. He compared Tesla’s unintended acceleration complaint rate to other vehicles and found Tesla’s to be much higher.

Many of the reports, Sparks wrote, show that Tesla has refused to share data with vehicle owners after an unintended acceleration incident. “It is clear that Tesla has the data and is aware of the problem,” Sparks wrote.

File photo shows the logo of the Tesla model S at the Paris Auto Show in Paris, France. PHOTO: AP