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German authorities: Tesla Model S is a “major traffic hazard”

Under public scrutiny: the Tesla Model S. (Photo: Tesla)

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Angelo Rychel
Angelo Rychel
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Expert assessment criticizes the vehicle’s automated steering and lane changing functions as being flawed.

A report by the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) has raised considerable doubts as to the roadworthiness of the Tesla Model S. The assessment concludes that the car’s Autopilot mode poses a “major traffic hazard”. This was first reported by German news magazine “Der Spiegel”. There will be no immediate consequences for the more than 3000 Model S vehicles on German roads, though. The Federal Ministry of Transport said that “a final evaluation” of the Autopilot function has not yet been made.

The BASt started its assessment after May’s fatal crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot in Florida. The authority’s experts performed extensive road tests with the vehicle, analyzing the Autopilot’s behavior in various driving situations and in doing so, identified several road safety risks. One major criticism is the “insufficient performance” of the emergency brake assistant; in that it doesn’t react promptly enough.

Moreover, the assessors warned that the Autopilot does not initiate a transition to manual driving when the system reaches its limits. Instead of notifying the driver, it “just continues driving unsafely”, the report states. According to “Der Spiegel”, this refers to the lane change assistant, for instance. With German highways lacking a speed limit, speeds of 120 miles per hour (200 km/h) and more are not uncommon. However, Tesla’s rear sensors only have a reach of around 130 feet (40 meters). “They cannot cope with the reality on German highways,” the magazine concluded.

Having been approached for comment by “Der Spiegel”, Tesla disputed the criticisms raised by the report, saying that the Autopilot is only functioning in tandem with the driver. According to Tesla, this has always been communicated to the driver. An overtaking maneuver would only be initiated if the driver confirms that the driving situation allows for it. Tesla went on to call its emergency brake system “state of the art”.

In an interview with 2025AD, automated driving expert Russ Shields recently accused Tesla of using "incomplete technology that I would not expect most OEMs to allow in their products." Tesla released an over-the-air Autopilot update in September which was considered a response to growing public scrutiny. So far, it is only available in the United States, though. In Europe, the type approval is still pending.

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Angelo Rychel
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