(Detroit) The U.S. federal traffic safety body is ratcheting up the heat on Tesla, announcing two new investigations, one of which will focus on steering wheels that come off.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday it will look into steering wheels on certain sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that appear to come off, as well as a fatal accident involving a Tesla possibly using an automated driving system. when it hit a parked fire truck in California.
NHTSA will deploy a special investigation team to look into the Feb. 18 crash involving a Tesla Model S and a Contra Costa County Fire Department ladder truck.
The case involving the fire truck is part of a larger investigation by the agency into the automaker’s “autopilot.” She is interested in several cases of Teslas equipped with such a system colliding with parked emergency vehicles.
NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety issues with Tesla over the past year, announcing multiple recalls and investigations.
The driver of the 2014 Tesla Model S was killed in the crash and a passenger was seriously injured. Four firefighters were treated for minor injuries. The 1.4 million ladder truck also suffered damage.
NHTSA is studying how “autopilot” detects and responds to emergency vehicles parked on highways. At least 15 Teslas on Autopilot have crashed into emergency vehicles across the country.
Authorities said the truck had its headlights on and was parked diagonally in the northbound lanes of Highway 680 to protect responders in a previous accident, which resulted in no injuries.
A spokeswoman for NHTSA said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation when asked if Tesla’s vehicles posed a hazard to rescuers.
Earlier Wednesday, the agency released documents revealing that it is also investigating steering wheels that can detach from the steering column on as many as 120,000 Model Y SUVs.
The agency said it received two complaints in which 2023 Y models were delivered to customers with a missing bolt that secures the steering wheel to the steering column. A friction fit held the steering wheels together, but they separated when force was applied while driving the SUVs.
The agency says in documents posted on its website Wednesday that both crashes happened when the SUVs had low mileage.
Detachable steering wheels are rare in the automotive industry, but not unprecedented. In February, Nissan recalled about 1,000 Ariya electric vehicles because the wheels could detach from the steering column due to a loose bolt.