Is Elon Musk’s automotive dream coming to an end? One of the flagship technologies of the Californian founder of Tesla, his driving assistant Autopilot, is the subject of a preliminary investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the US agency in charge of road safety, announced this last Monday August 16.

This news comes after a series of eleven recorded accidents involving one of the vehicles of the group led by Elon Musk. The stake of the investigation will be “To better understand the causes of certain accidents linked to Tesla”, studying “The techniques put in place to monitor, assist and enforce the driver’s commitment to driving while in use”, said NHTSA. The survey covers 765,000 vehicles (all of the models Y, X, S and 3), which is almost all of the vehicles sold by Tesla in the United States since the start of 2014.

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One dead and seventeen wounded

Tesla’s driving assistant has been the subject of much controversy after a series of accidents involving company vehicles. In 2016 in Florida, a first fatal accident occurred on a fast lane while the autopilot was activated. At an intersection, the car struck a heavy truck which had cut off the road in order to turn left. Because of a “Bright sky”, “Neither the autopilot, nor the driver detected the white side of the trailer, said the company founded by Elon Musk, in a message posted on its website. The brakes were therefore not engaged ”. The driver died instantly.

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The eleven accidents on which the American Highway Safety Agency will work are more recent: they have occurred since January 2018 in California, Florida, Michigan and Texas, resulting in the death of one person and injuries to ten. -seven people.

In all, since June 2016, the NHTSA has recorded 31 accidents involving partially automated driver assistance systems. Twenty-five of them involved Tesla’s Autopilot system, killing ten drivers or passengers, according to data released by the agency.

Asked by Agence France-Presse, Tesla did not immediately react to the opening of this investigation.

Far from complete autonomy

The very name of the technology proposed by Tesla, “Autopilot”, is debated while no car from any manufacturer is technically able today to offer motorists a fully autonomous driving vehicle. “All cars available today require human control all the time”, explains NHTSA.

The American automaker led by Mr. Musk does not say the opposite, recalling on its website that its technology requires “Active monitoring by the driver and does not make the vehicle autonomous”. But Tesla, which posted a net profit of $ 1.14 billion in the second quarter of 2021 thanks to the delivery of a record number of vehicles, in excess of 200,000 units, is often caught in double talk. At a conference earlier this year, Elon Musk argued that full autonomy would become “Obvious (…) during this year “.

In 2015, the American billionaire said that a fully autonomous vehicle would be available within two years. Despite billions of dollars in research and development over the years, Tesla still operates in category 2 on the autonomy scale set by the professional organization Society of Automotive Engineers, far from the fifth step, synonymous with complete autonomy. .

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Le Monde with AFP and AP

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