NHTSA said Wednesday it is gathering information about reports of minor crashes involving Tesla Inc.'s Smart Summon feature that allows people to retrieve a parked vehicle remotely by using an app.
Several users have posted videos on social media of Tesla vehicles that appear to have been in near accidents, while one posted a video of a Tesla striking a garage wall and another of a Tesla being struck by a vehicle backing up.
The nation's top auto safety regulator said it "is aware of reports related to Tesla’s Summon feature. We are in ongoing contact with the company and we continue to gather information," adding, "the agency will not hesitate to act if it finds evidence of a safety-related defect."
The feature is intended to work in parking lots when the user is within line of sight of the vehicle.
Smart Summon is included in Tesla's Full Self-Driving Capability or Enhanced Autopilot systems, the company said in a press release about the software update. Tesla included a warning about Smart Summon in notes about the software update, saying owners are still responsible for their vehicles when using the feature.
Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, told Automotive News in an interview that he’s concerned Tesla tried to “insulate themselves from liability” by including -- in the software release notes -- that Smart Summon is only intended for use in private parking lots and driveways.
According to data from NHTSA, 2,100 people died in accidents which occurred off public roadways in 2015.
“There’s still significant risk there,” Levine said.
Levine said he hopes NHTSA takes immediate action to stop the technology from being used in public spaces, but isn’t optimistic.
“Is NHTSA going to successfully get Tesla to send out a new software update?” he said. “We would be surprised to see that happen.”
He said the center will continue to monitor Smart Summon complaints and information as it’s made available.
“We don’t know yet how these features will work in some circumstances,” Levine said. “Tesla continues to beta test on live human beings who have not agreed to be a part of this experiment and that is dangerous.”