Tesla is under federal scrutiny for ‘phantom braking’ complaints

Tesla logo
Tesla drivers have been reporting sudden, unexplained braking. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is reviewing complaints about Tesla Inc. vehicles that suddenly brake at high speeds, the latest in a string of confrontations between the company and safety regulators.

“NHTSA is aware of complaints received about forward collision avoidance and is reviewing them through our risk-based evaluation process,” according to a statement from the agency. “This process includes discussions with the manufacturer, as well as reviewing additional data sources, including Early Warning Reporting data. If the data show that a risk may exist, NHTSA will act immediately.”

Earlier this week, the agency revealed that Tesla had agreed to voluntarily disable a feature in its driver assistance system that permitted cars to slowly roll through stop signs when no other vehicles or pedestrians are present. That recall comes as NHTSA is in the midst of investigations into Tesla’s Autopilot and in-dash video game systems that were launched by U.S. regulators last year as NHTSA stepped up its scrutiny of Tesla.


Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department, did not respond to a request for comment on the NHTSA filing. The inquiry was previously reported by the Washington Post.

While regulators investigate a spate of Teslas steering themselves into parked vehicles, Tesla owners have been reporting faulty collision-avoidance systems.

Oct. 7, 2021

Driver complaints on the NHTSA website reveal concerns about the braking problem. For example, an unidentified 2021 Tesla Model 3 driver in Madison, Wis., complained in January of his car braking unexpectedly at highway speed.

“I was driving north on Wisconsin route 14 at about 60 mph in my Tesla model 3 using the cruise control,” the driver said in a complaint that was posted on the NHTSA website. “When a large transportation truck came from the opposite direction, my Tesla suddenly braked sharply. A Ford model F150 truck was following behind me and almost crashed into the back of my car.”

Another unidentified 2021 Model 3 driver in Lavalette, W.Va., complained in January of a “close call” that nearly resulted in an accident.

“While driving in cruise control the car will [brake] suddenly for no reason,” the driver said. “I had a close call to where I was worried that the car behind me would hit me. The sudden [braking] has happened many times. It’s terrifying. I had to quit using auto pilot and cruise control when someone is following me for that reason.”

An unidentified 2021 Tesla Model Y driver in Tyler, Texas, complained about a near collision with a big-rig truck due to the so-called “phantom braking” of his vehicle.


“When driving on a two-lane road and approaching an oncoming 18 wheeler the cruise control consistently slams on the brakes and I am concerned about the well-being of my 5- and 4-year-old in the back seat,” the driver said. “It whips them forward. I am also concerned about cars following me and getting rear ended with the force it is applying this phantom braking.”