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What WA driver should know about Tesla’s giant recall

Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles in the United States to fix a system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when they use Autopilot, Tesla’s driving-assistance feature.

Documents posted Wednesday by U.S. safety regulators say the update will increase warnings and alerts to drivers, and limit the areas where basic versions of Autopilot can operate. Tesla expected to release a software fix enabling drivers to resolve the issues without visiting dealer.

The recall comes after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

How does this impact Washington drivers?

There are 150,000 electric vehicles registered in Washington, a segment of passenger vehicles that has grown sixfold in five years. 

EV ownership in Washington is concentrated west of the Cascades, with about half of the state’s 150,000 EVs registered in King County. Snohomish and Pierce counties follow behind, according to an analysis of public records from the Washington State Department of Licensing.

Tesla remains the state’s most popular EV brand. 

Is your Tesla safe to drive?

The Autopilot system, which comes standard on every new Tesla, includes automatic steering assistance and cruise control.

When the Autosteer system is in use — and the driver is not prepared to intervene or doesn’t recognize when the system is canceled or not in use — “there may be an increased risk of a crash,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall.

“The prominence and scope of the [Autosteer] feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse,” the recall continued. 

Tesla says on its website the vehicles are safe to drive, but “there may be an increased risk of a collision” if drivers misuse the Autopilot system.

What does the recall include?

The recall will include an over-the-air software update to the Autopilot system in models Y, S, 3 and X produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year, according to NHTSA. 

The update was expected to begin on or shortly after Tuesday, with some affected vehicles receiving the update “at a later date,” the agency said.

Vehicles will receive an over-the-air software fix that customers can install at their convenience, according to Tesla’s website. Customers do not need to schedule a service appointment, the company said.

The update will add more controls and alerts to affected vehicles to “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility” while Autosteer is engaged. The updates include keeping hands on the steering wheel and paying attention to the roadway, according to the recall.

Depending on the vehicle, the additional controls may also include increasing visual alerts, simplifying the engagement and disengagement of Autosteer, additional checks on engaging the system while using it outside highways and when approaching traffic controls, and eventual suspension of the system if the driver repeatedly fails to demonstrate “driving responsibility while the feature is engaged,” the recall said.

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What exactly is Autosteer?

The Autosteer component of Tesla’s Autopilot system can provide steering, braking and acceleration support to a driver.

The system is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment,” according to Tesla’s website.

The system is designed and intended for use on controlled-access highways and only when the feature is not operating in conjunction with the Autosteer on City Streets feature.

When Autosteer is in use, it does not make the vehicle autonomous; the driver is the operator of the vehicle. The driver remains responsible for the vehicle’s movement, “remaining attentive to surrounding road conditions, and intervening as needed to maintain safe operation,” according to the NHTSA recall.

Why is this called a recall if I don’t have to take my car anywhere for a fix?

According to NHTSA, a recall is when a manufacturer or NHTSA determines a vehicle, equipment, car seat or tire creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet federal safety standards.

NHTSA then requires a manufacturer’s action to announce and remedy the defects through either repair, replacement or refund.

Tesla’s recall will be repaired through an automatic software update.

What prompted the recall?

The recall follows a two-year NHTSA investigation into the safety of Tesla’s driver assistance systems. 

Investigators reviewed 956 crashes in which Autopilot was initially believed to have been in use, then focused on a narrower set of 322 Autopilot-involved crashes, according to the recall.

The crashes caused at least 17 deaths, according to The Associated Press. 

The agency found Autopilot’s method of ensuring drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system,” according to AP. 

How do I find out if my Tesla is included in the recall?

Drivers can use the company’s VIN Recall Search tool at to check if their car has been affected by a recall, Tesla says on its site.

This story includes information from The Associated Press.

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