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NHTSA blames drivers for ‘sudden unintended acceleration’ in Tesla vehicles


In brief: Back in January of last year, Tesla became embroiled in yet another NHTSA investigation; this time surrounding allegations that the company’s cars were suddenly accelerating, leading to crashes and injury. Now, just a couple of weeks away from the anniversary of that report, the NHTSA has cleared Tesla of all wrongdoing and placed the blame firmly on drivers.

NHTSA was acting on information provided by a Mr. Brian Sparks, who requested that the NHTSA “recall all [Tesla] Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles produced from 2013 to the present” due to SUA (sudden unintended acceleration) problems.

To support his complaint, Sparks provided the organization with a total of 232 “non-duplicative” complaints regarding this issue, 203 of which involved collisions with the environment or other vehicles.

After a solid year of investigation, though, the NHTSA has found that Sparks’ complaints are largely without merit. In every single instance of a SUA event in which log data was available, “pedal misapplication” was the cause of the acceleration.

In other words, as some of our readers theorized back in 2020, drivers simply pressed the wrong pedal; accelerating when they intended to brake. It’s an understandable mistake, of course, and one many of us have made a time or two in our lives (hopefully without crashing). However, a mistake is all it is, and not the result of a vehicle hardware or software flaw.

This is good news for Tesla, but it’s also an outcome the company likely predicted from the get-go. The company previously claimed these complaints were brought on in bad faith by a stock “short-seller.” If Tesla truly believed that was the case, they had no reason to be concerned here — and the NHTSA’s finalized report backs that up.

To be clear, this report does not clear Tesla of all future wrongdoing. The NHTSA reserves the right to open up a separate investigation at a later date if other, valid complaints come to light. But for now, the company has dodged a bullet, albeit a poorly-aimed one.



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