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Tesla owners accuse their cars of unintentional acceleration. Is it true?



NHTSA is considering investigating reports of "sudden unintended acceleration" (SUA) in Tesla vehicles. Tesla replied in a company blog entry and denied that there was a problem. Vehicle logs available from Tesla seem to confirm the company's history, but critics say there is more to it than Tesla is willing to say.

Does Teslas suddenly have an unintended acceleration problem? Here is the information available so far:

What is a sudden accidental acceleration?

Sudden unintentional acceleration occurs when a vehicle suddenly starts for various reasons without driver input. The problem is rare, and an in-depth investigation almost always shows that the driver was at fault, often because he believed that his foot was on the brake when he pressed the accelerator pedal. No computer is perfect, but there is no room for error when life is at stake. Therefore, manufacturers use multiple pedal sensor inputs that must match. If not, the vehicle's computer turns off the power.

In the case of Toyota, which is known to have suffered an SUA crisis in 201

1 that recalled more than 2 million vehicles, there was a simple, analogous cause. The fault lay in floor mats that could slip on the accelerator. Most cars these days come with clips to hold the doormat firmly in place on the driver's side.

Tesla's log data

Tesla and at least two independent log analysts state that they have identified a driver error in the reported incidents. Tesla has repeatedly stated that they are investigating every SUA allegation with a Tesla vehicle, and in any case, the logs show that the accelerator pedal was depressed as the vehicle lurched forward.

But what if the pedal wasn't pressed when the protocol claimed it was?

Dr. Ronald Belt, a retired electronics engineer who publishes in the Center for Auto Safety, has independently investigated SUA claims in the past. Belt examined in detail the data of a Tesla Model S that was allegedly about SUA. The data came from a second-hand owner who had obtained the data in a telephone call from Tesla.

  Dr. Belt diagram of pedal activation in Tesla SUA incidents
Belt diagram of pedal activation in Tesla SUA incidents

The log shows that the accelerator pedal was pressed, more precisely, the voltages expected from an activated accelerator pedal. However, the log also showed something extremely improbable. Several accelerations of the accelerator pedal that lasted exactly for 1 second.

The belt theorizes that the drive unit of the vehicle overheats a sensor when driving slowly and that the sensor loses power. In this case, the computer incorrectly responds to an incorrect pedal input and supplies the electric motors with power, which drives the vehicle forward against an obstacle. One of the components is repeatedly “reset”, which cuts off the current at inhumanly precise 1 second intervals.

This theory is plausible, but only that. Dr. Belt had no direct access to the vehicle. It is only the reason why a more thorough investigation could be helpful. A final confirmation of an unintentional acceleration is not possible from a distance.

Why the NHTSA is considering an investigation

In late 2019, Brian Sparks of Berkeley, California began investigating media reports and NHTSA reports on SUA in Tesla's vehicles. After compiling the information, he prepared a report for the NHTSA and asked it to investigate the matter. After several months and a follow-up with additional data, the NHTSA announced that it would review whether its data warrant a full investigation.

The petition is a 69-page document that catalogs every Tesla-related SUA incident reported since 2013.

Tesla responded quickly to the NHTSA announcement in a corporate blog post. “This petition is completely wrong and was submitted by a Tesla short seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver accuses us of having accelerated his vehicle against his input, and in each case where we had the vehicle data, we confirmed that the car was working as planned. “Digital Trends turned to Tesla for more comments, but no response yet.

Sparks does not deny that he is a Tesla short seller, but insists that he has not applied for financial gain. "It's not about short sales," said Sparks. "You should definitely read the petition."

The petition is a 69-page document that catalogs the SUA incidents related to Tesla that have been reported since 2013. In addition to a listing of SUA incidents for each model and year, it includes descriptions of The Incidents reported by the owners or in the media.

An incident typical of others in the petition claims that a Tesla vehicle drove forward in a parking lot. The incident was reported to the NHSTA by the owner.

It hit three stationary vehicles and turned over a small tree. An attempt was made to stop the car, but the brakes would not work, and the car eventually stopped after hitting the third vehicle. “

In most situations compiled by Sparks, the driver was moving at a slow speed in a parking lot, driveway, or similar situation. When they stopped or were about to stop, the driver reported that the vehicle suddenly accelerated forward without the driver pressing the accelerator.

What's next with the case?

The information from Dr. Belt and Sparks look convincing But it's still a long way from proving that Tesla has a sudden acceleration problem. Dr.'s analysis Belt is not based on a practical investigation of the vehicle with which a problem has occurred. The statistical analysis of Sparks shows a high number of incidents, but cannot find a specific defect.

What's next? The NHTSA will decide whether to conduct a full investigation. In this case, the agency could have access to all the logs collected by Tesla, as well as the vehicles. The NHSTA can even test whether it can reproduce a sudden unintentional acceleration.

Of course, the NHSTA may choose not to conduct an investigation, close the Sparks petition case, and justify Tesla.

In addition to a According to a possible NHTSA investigation, several Tesla owners filed a lawsuit for alleged SUA problems with the vehicles. In this case, further evidence and data could emerge to highlight the problem.

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