NHTSA Investigating “Phantom Braking” Issue With Tesla Driver Assist Software

The NHTSA is currently investigating a software issue in some Model 3 and Y vehicles that might cause “phantom braking.”

The Autopilot and Full Self-Driving software on Model 3 and Y models rely purely on a camera system. These driver assist programs are capable of forward collision warnings and emergency braking.

The NHTSA received more than 350 complaints of phantom braking. Most of the reported “phantom braking” incidents occurred after Tesla removed radar from its less expensive car models in May 2021.

The removal of radar caused several consumer safety organizations to reassess their safety ratings on Tesla vehicles. In December 2021, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the camera system a Top Safety Pick+ safety rating. The NHTSA has not yet issued a safety rating for Tesla’s systems.

Tesla has already issued a recall to fix the phantom braking issue in vehicles equipped with Full Self-Driving. Both driver assist programs are optional add-ons for consumers who order a Tesla vehicle. They can also be added on later, which has led to occasional incidents involving an accidental purchase. (Unintended purchases can, fortunately, easily be reversed.)

Previous software-related recalls also include software updates to disable gaming while the vehicle is in motion and remove the “Boombox” feature, which allowed the vehicle to make customized sounds outside the vehicle. Regulators said that the “Boombox” feature would have obscured a required sound warning that a vehicle was approaching, though some Tesla fans said that it should be regarded as no different from a honking horn.

In the wake of several recalls over the past year and the SEC’s ongoing legal wrangling with Elon Musk over his tweets, Tesla accused regulators of picking on Musk. Tesla especially blasted the SEC for attempting to quell Musk’s free speech rights with an ongoing lawsuit involving a 2018 tweet in which Musk said he could take Tesla private.

Musk has since admitted that taking Tesla private would be impossible. However, subsequent tweets about Tesla’s stock included a 2021 poll in which he asked if he should sell 10% of his stock. Tesla stock plunged after the poll was posted.

Musk did end up selling billions of dollars’ worth of stock (and, yes, paying $11 billion in capital gains taxes, although that was apparently still not enough for Senator Elizabeth Warren).

Tesla attorney Alex Spiro called out the SEC for failing to distribute the $40 million in fines that were a part of the initial settlement between Tesla, Musk, and the SEC. He accused regulators of conducting an “unrelenting” campaign of harassment and intimidation because Musk is an outspoken critic of the government.

Musk had called for adding a maximum age of 70 years old to the eligibility requirements to be President of the United States, an age that would have disqualified both Trump and Biden. He went after Biden for repeatedly snubbing Tesla in discussions of electric vehicles even though Tesla was the first company to create a commercially viable electric car. He also referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Senator Karen” in a tweet after she ran attack ads against Musk on Facebook and criticized him on Twitter.