Why Teslas Keep Striking Parked Firetrucks and Police Cars

The NHTSA is narrowing in on the company’s Autopilot system, noting that the Teslas in these incidents “were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control during the approach to the crashes.” The investigation will cover Tesla models Y, X, S, and 3 that were released between 2014 and 2021. Autopilot’s difficulties with sensing firetrucks and other emergency vehicles has been a known problem for years, and the feature has also been criticized as encouraging drivers to rely on it as though it is a self-driving system when in fact it is only meant to assist an engaged driver. To better understand the issue, I spoke with Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in self-driving vehicles. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.