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Tesla Autopilot safety recall affects two million cars

Two million US market Teslas will receive a software upgrade to improve the safety of their Autopilot self-driving tech

2016 Tesla Model S - cornering

Tesla in the US has agreed to ‘recall’ two million cars with Autopilot autonomous driving features, following a long-running investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The recall takes the form of an over-the-air software update, which it is being reported has been designed to improve the car’s ability to determine whether drivers using Tesla’s Autopilot functions are paying proper attention to the road ahead, and are keeping their hands on the steering wheel at all times. The company, headed by Elon Musk, says it disputes the NHTSA’s analysis that the existing system is open to misuse, and says it has agreed to upgrade the software only in order to put an end to the investigation.

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Tesla has told US media outlets that the new software will add additional alerts and controls to those already in place “to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer (one of the Autopilot’s suite of functions) is engaged.”

The NHTSA began its investigation into Autopilot after recording a significant number of crashes (over a dozen) in which Teslas had collided with stationary vehicles on the road - including fire trucks and police cars - in some cases with fatal results. The NHTSA says it found that "Tesla's unique design of its Autopilot system can provide inadequate driver engagement and usage controls that can lead to foreseeable misuse of the system."

That translates as an increased risk of accidents and crashes, where Autopilot driving aids have been switched on, but the driver does not maintain sufficient vigilance in order to maintain responsibility for the vehicle’s operation, or is unprepared to swiftly intervene if there’s a system failure or Autopilot disengages for any reason.

Tesla in Europe has not yet responded to our enquiries about whether the software updates will be applicable to cars sold in the UK or elsewhere. We’ve approached the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency - the UK body responsible for vehicle recalls - for comment, too.

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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