South Korea has said it is investigating suspected safety problems with vehicles manufactured by U.S. automaker Tesla Inc. According to a Reuters news report, braking and steering systems including the Autopilot feature are part of the investigation, a South Korean transport ministry official said. The ministry did not offer any more information, but South Korean media said Tesla’s Model 3 was under investigation and that the probe could take anywhere between six months to a year.
South Korean officials said Tesla has vowed to cooperate with the investigation. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) last year cited Tesla’s Autopilot design as the probable cause of a January 2018 crash of a Model S in California. It’s unclear what spurred this safety investigation in South Korea.
Tesla’s Autopilot Under Scrutiny
Another news report states that researchers presenting at the annual “Automated Vehicle Summit,” which opened in the virtual conference world, demanded that Tesla institute camera-based driver monitoring as part of the Autopilot function. Tesla’s Autopilot right now contains a basic system to ensure drivers are still paying attention to the road. It can sense if you apply force to the wheel and typically when you hold the wheel with a bit of grip, there will be occasional torque forces.
If it doesn’t detect any such force, it signals alerts, first on the screen, eventually with sound, and eventually by slowing the car to a stop. It’s not a very precise system because it is possible to hold the wheel quite well and still not be detected. Other systems such as GM’s “Super-Cruise” actually use a camera to monitor the driver and see how much attention the driver is paying to the road. The most sophisticated systems track the eyes of the driver and note how much time is spent looking ahead, down at controls, at a phone, or checking the mirrors. They can insist that you do not take your eyes off the road for too long even if you keep your hands off the wheel.
Need for Safety
While it is not very clear at this point why the Tesla Model 3 has come under scrutiny in South Korea, it should raise some questions as to whether our regulatory agency here in the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has received any complaints with regard to these vehicles. It would also be important to learn whether any accidents or injuries have been linked to these specific issues.
If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of an auto defect or defective vehicle part, you may be able to seek compensation for damages including medical expenses, lost income, hospitalization, rehabilitation, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. An experienced auto defect lawyer will be able to advise victims and their families regarding their legal rights and options.