what is the camera in the cabin really for? This is what the American authorities are wondering

The American agency in charge of road safety wonders about the usefulness of the camera installed in the passenger compartment of Tesla. This could have played (or not) a role in several accidents in the past.

Since its launch in 2014 on the Tesla Model S, the Autopilot has not ceased to be talked about and sometimes to create controversy. And for good reason, this level 2 semi-autonomous driving system, combining a lane keeping device with adaptive cruise control, has been involved in accidents, sometimes fatal. In most of the cases, the latter were caused by the negligence and lack of attention of the drivers, some even going as far as sleeping or watching movies.

A real surveillance camera

If the Autopilot checks the presence of the driver via sensors located on the steering wheel, an additional functionality was born last year. If rumors already evoked Tesla’s desire to monitor the level of attention of motorists via a camera installed in the interior rearview mirror, it is now done. As a note from the 2021.4.15.11 update states: “ The interior camera above the rear-view mirror can now detect and alert the driver if they are not paying attention when Autopilot is engaged. Data from the camera remains in the vehiclewhich means that the system cannot save or transmit information if the data sharing option is not activated“.

This camera is therefore simply used to monitor the behavior of the driver. Nevertheless, this is of great interest to the NHTSA, which is none other than the American federal agency in charge of road safety. As explained Automotive News, the latter indeed opened an investigation in 2021 following a dozen accidents involving Teslas having struck stationary emergency vehicles. What surprised the investigators is in eleven cases, no driver tried to avoid the collision, which suggests that they may have been doing something else while driving. According to an AFP statement, the investigation had been extended to 191 accidents, ” of which 85 were attributed to external factors“. According to the agency, there are indications that the driver was not responsive enough” with respect to other collisions.

Tesla ordered to explain

The NHTSA is therefore continuing its investigation and is now taking a very close interest in this famous camera, which could give valuable clues to the involvement or not of drivers in these accidents. In a nine-page letter, the agency then asks Tesla to answer questions about the role the interior camera plays in monitoring driver engagement and attention. The brand has until October 12 to comment on this and provide explanations.

We imagine that the functionality of monitoring the attention of drivers by the camera was not yet activated in these accidents analyzed by the NHTSA.

Last June, the investigation moved from the preliminary assessment stage to that of engineering analysis. This is the last step before the recall, which could then concern several hundred thousand vehicles. According to Automotive News, no less than 830,000 of the brand’s cars are indeed equipped with Autopilot. However, not all drivers are in the same boat. Indeed, if the driver monitoring functionality has been available since last May, it was only activated at the end of the year for some, for example. It remains to be seen what the investigation will conclude, which could lead to an outright ban on the use of Autopilot in the United States in the worst case, even if this remains very unlikely.

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