What just happened? Tesla can't seem to catch a break lately. Just yesterday, the company found itself at the center of yet another PR disaster: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a voluntary safety recall for close to 54,000 of the company's vehicles. Now, Tesla cars are under fire again for a string of recent "phantom braking" incidents in which they slam on the brakes for no apparent reason.
Naturally, this is not good news for Tesla or its drivers. While a few bugs are to be expected with software like Tesla's full self-driving (FSD) tech or Autopilot, you never want those bugs to put you in real danger. Unfortunately, danger is precisely what many Tesla owners have been faced with while using Tesla's tech -- at least, if 107 complaints recently filed with the NHTSA regarding phantom braking are anything to go by.
What's shocking about that number is just how quickly those complaints have stacked up. It's only factoring in phantom braking reports received in the last three months -- in the 22 months prior to October 2021, the NHTSA only received about 34 similar reports.
In November, one Tesla driver based in Mount Vernon, IA reported "multiple instances" of his vehicle applying "heavy braking" when cresting a hill or being approached by a large vehicle in the oncoming traffic lane (with "traffic aware cruise control" enabled). A driver in West Kill, NY, reported similar incidents: their vehicle reportedly slammed on the brakes "more than 10 times over 20 miles" when large vehicles approached in the opposite lane.
It's not clear precisely what's causing this sudden influx of suspicious braking activity among Tesla vehicles, but there are a few possibilities. One could be related to an FSD software rollback Tesla performed in October (which would fit the three-month timeline mentioned before) that was specifically intended to address the issue of phantom braking.
Beyond that, drivers and "safety experts" that spoke to the Washington Post feel these incidents may be related to Tesla's recent decision to stop using radar technology to aid in its vehicles' Autopilot and FSD technology. Instead, the cars rely on their built-in cameras and other sensors to detect their surroundings.
Whatever the issue may be, we hope the NHTSA and Tesla are able to get to the bottom of it sooner rather than later. If the former takes any official action against the latter, we'll certainly update you here.