JOSH EDELSON / Contributor via Getty
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency recently maligned by Elon Musk as the “fun police” for making Tesla disable such features as the “Boombox,” programming rolling stops into its driver assist system, and playing video games while driving, is once again launching an investigation into the electric car maker. This time, it’s for an issue that even Tesla’s most fervent supporters often complain about: phantom braking.
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Phantom braking is when a car equipped with safety technology designed to automatically brake does so even when there is no reason to brake. It is an extremely dangerous software issue because it is, fundamentally, cars slamming on brakes for no reason, which, at high speeds, risks dangerous rear-end collisions. Phantom braking is not a new problem to Teslas, nor is it a problem unique to Teslas. But lots of anecdotal evidence suggests it has gotten worse in Teslas over the last nine to 12 months, a period that happens to coincide with Tesla issuing a software update so they rely solely on cameras for their Autopilot systems instead of a suite of sensors including radar as most other automatic emergency braking systems do.NHTSA says in the document announcing the investigation it affects 2021-2022 Model Y and Model 3’s, for a total of some 416,000 cars. NHTSA has received 354 complaints regarding phantom braking in Teslas in the last nine months. That is a big number for NHTSA complaints, given most people don’t know they can file complaints to NHTSA for vehicle issues. For comparison, when NHTSA investigated Nissan Rogues for phantom braking issues with its 2017-2018 model, NHTSA received 129 complaints affecting 553,000 cars.“The complaints allege that while utilizing the ADAS features including adaptive cruise control, the vehicle unexpectedly applies its brakes while driving at highway speeds,” the document states. “Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, at random, and often repeatedly in a single drive cycle.”