Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

U.S. safety officials have agreed to review customer complaints that as many as 500,000 Tesla electric cars may spontaneously accelerate.

The review is being conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation (read the notice). The office says the owner reports cover 127 incidents involving 123 vehicles, 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

The petitions implicate about 500,000 Tesla Model 3, Model S and Model X vehicles produced during the 2016-2019 model years.

A Familiar Issue

The auto industry has a long history of reports about cars accelerating spontaneously.

It all began in the 1980s with a wave of complaints about Audi 5000 sedans, a crisis that almost drove Audi out of the American market. But an NHTSA analysis of crash event recorder data reportedly found that in all cases the throttle was wide open and the brakes were not engaged. Conclusion: Drivers were pressing the accelerator when they thought they were hitting the brakes.

Still, mechanical issues can sometimes come into play. That was the case at Toyota a decade ago in a series of sudden acceleration crashes that killed 89 people in the U.S. Investigators could find no electronic glitches and suspected driver error was mostly at fault.

But Toyota ended up recalling more than 10 million vehicles to fix sticky accelerator mechanisms and floor mats that could bunch up around the gas pedal. The company also began installing interlocks that cut power to the engine if simultaneous accelerating and braking are detected.

What Next?

Many of the Tesla complaints involve cars that suddenly lurched when the driver was attempting to park, a situation often linked in past investigations to operator error. But in at least one case, an owner claims his Tesla Model S took off on its own after being parked and locked, rolling into the street and striking another parked vehicle.

NHTSA will now examine the complaints and decide whether to look for a possible flaw. If so, an engineering analysis would follow that could lead to a recall order.

If the agency’s review decides the reports don’t point to a safety defect, it says it will explain in a notice in the Federal Register.