By David Shepardson and Vibhuti Sharma
WASHINGTON/BENGALURU (Reuters) – U.S. regulators are looking into parking lot crashes involving Tesla Inc (O:) cars driving themselves to their owners using the company’s Smart Summon feature, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday.
Several users have posted videos on social media of Tesla vehicles that appear to have been in near accidents. One posted a video of a Tesla striking a garage wall and another of a Tesla being struck by a vehicle backing up.
Tesla added the feature, called Smart Summon, through a software update last week for some customers. When the car is within their line of sight, they use a phone app to summon the vehicle in a parking lot.
On its website, Tesla’s description of Summon reads: “Summon: your parked car will come find you anywhere in a parking lot. Really.”
Asked about reports of crashes involving the feature, NHTSA 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. Safety is NHTSA’s top priority and the agency will not hesitate to act if it finds evidence of a safety-related defect.”
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tesla says users should have a clear line of sight to their car and should have checked the surroundings before using it. Tesla says the vehicle “will maneuver around or stop for objects and notify you when detected.” The feature works to summon a car as far away as 200 feet.
While Summon is meant to be used in parking lots, off public roads, the feature breaks new ground by allowing operation of a vehicle without a driver behind the wheel. Federal vehicle safety regulations were written decades ago, before such technology existed.
In addition to the crashes depicted on social media, there are also videos of several near misses.
In one recent Twitter video, a Tesla exits a parking space and starts to cross a driveway when an SUV nearly collides with the driverless car. A voice is heard gasping and exclaiming, “Oh my God!”
The poster, Dallas-based solutions architect Roddie Hasan, commented that his “first test of Smart Summon didn’t go so well.”
“..A car pulled in from the road and around the corner into the lot, and I expected the Tesla to ‘see’ it and stop, however I had to take my finger off the (app) button when I saw that my Tesla wasn’t slowing down”, Hasan told Reuters.
Another Twitter user, Mark Solomon, also posted a video that showed his car was not able to park itself properly using the feature.
“Not sure what the problem was but I think an older map of the parking lot was being used,” he said.
Other users had positive reviews. One posted a video of a white Tesla that slowly maneuvered around a parking lot for over a minute, ultimately arriving safely next to where the operator was standing.
“It was a very profound moment to see this technology live! People don’t understand the depths and multitude of challenges to make this happen,” the Twitter user, @problematique79, told Reuters.
The summon feature is one of a suite of automated driving features that Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has promised customers who have paid $6,000 for optional “Full Self Driving” packages of hardware and software.
Tesla’s promotion of automated driving features is one way in which the company hopes to stay ahead of legacy automakers, that have been more conservative about enabling vehicles to operate without drivers behind the wheel.