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Alarming: Tesla lawsuit claims collision monitoring system is faulty

Alert noise is 'loud and distracting' for drivers, claims filing

All-electric vehicle maker Tesla is facing a potential class action lawsuit over claims that some of its cars suffer from a defect involving false collision alerts that not only inconvenience the driver, but could also represent a serious safety hazard.

The complaint was filed in Cook County, Illinois, by a plaintiff claiming that his Tesla vehicle exhibits a serious defect in the forward collision monitoring system. Courthouse News had a copy of the filing [PDF].

The system is a feature designed to prevent a crash by monitoring the area in front of the car for objects such as other vehicles. If it appears that a collision is imminent, the system sounds an alert to have the driver take immediate action. If such action is not taken, then the car automatically applies the brakes.

According to the lead plaintiff, Joshua Santiago, his Tesla regularly exhibited false forward collision alerts when the vehicle was proceeding along a highway with nothing in front of it, triggering a loud noise and applying the brakes, even though there was no danger of the vehicle hitting anything. He claims this happened multiple times per journey.

The alert noise itself is not only “loud and distracting” for drivers, Santiago’s filing states, but the “phantom braking” can happen when there is another vehicle following behind, which means that the system could actually cause a collision rather than preventing one.

The filing alleges that hundreds of similar complaints regarding this collision warning defect have been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and to Tesla itself by drivers across the US, although it lists only 15 of them, involving different Tesla models.

The filing goes on to claim Tesla must be aware of the alleged flaw, yet while the company regularly updates its vehicles with over-the-air software updates, none of the updates has delivered a fix for the supposed defect.

“At the very least, defendant should have disclosed the collision warning defect to consumers before they bought a vehicle possessing the defect,” the document states.

The plaintiff argues he would not have decided to purchase that particular vehicle (or would have paid significantly less for it) had he known about this flaw.

He also claimed that it was affecting his insurance premiums, as he is enrolled with Tesla Insurance, and this implements a usage-based safety discount scheme which determines the premium based on certain driving metrics, which includes the frequency of safety alerts.

The filing seeks an award of compensation for damages to the plaintiff and the other members of the purported class action, and an order to prevent Tesla from continuing to sell vehicles with this alleged defect without disclosing its existence.

We have asked Tesla for a statement.

The automaker is no stranger to the courts, or to reports of malfunctions. This week alone, Tesla has been hit with a pair of proposed class action lawsuits over alleged monopolization of repair work to its vehicles, while it was reported that owners are claiming they can unlock other people’s Teslas.

Last week there were alarming reports of Tesla drivers experiencing the steering wheel completely detaching from the steering column while driving, and there have been numerous incidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot software not functioning as it should. ®

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