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Tesla recalls more than 817,000 vehicles over seat-belt chime issue, which it will address remotely

For Tesla, it’s the second recall in a matter of days after it said it would address the ‘rolling stop’ issue

Tesla vehicles lined up in Colma, Calif., on Jan. 26. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)
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SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla is issuing a safety recall of more than 817,000 vehicles over faulty seat-belt chimes, according to the top U.S. auto safety regulator, the second recall to come to light in a week.

The electric automaker will remotely update 817,143 vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said, after an issue where its seat-belt chimes go quiet on subsequent drives after having previously been interrupted — for example, when a driver exits the vehicle as the chime sounds.

“The audible chime may not activate when the vehicle starts and the driver has not buckled their seat belt,” NHTSA wrote in an issue summary. The agency said the issue puts Tesla out of compliance with “occupant crash protection” requirements of federal auto safety regulations.

“The driver may be unaware that their seat belt is not fastened, increasing the risk of injury during a crash,” wrote NHTSA official Alex Ansley, in a letter to Tesla describing the issue.

Tesla will recall more than 50,000 vehicles over software’s 'rolling-stop’ feature

Tesla said a software release will address the issue over-the-air in February, meaning owners will not be required to bring their vehicles in for service to satisfy the recall requirements. Tesla is one of few automakers that make extensive changes to the way their vehicles operate using over-the-air software updates. The capability has occasionally landed it in trouble with regulators because it failed to notify them of changes that would otherwise be made through the recall process.

Tesla did respond to a request for comment. NHTSA spokeswoman Lucia Sanchez said the agency aims to ensure companies file necessary recalls — even if the fix can be initiated through a software update.

“As required, Tesla filed a recall with NHTSA to address an issue with its seatbelt chimes,” she said. “NHTSA is committed to holding manufacturers accountable and ensuring they are meeting their requirements to initiate a recall for any repair, including a software update, that remedies an unreasonable risk to safety, or a failure to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”

In October, NHTSA called out Tesla over a failure to issue a formal recall when it issued a software update that allowed its cars to better see parked emergency vehicles in low light. Since then, Tesla has issued a steady stream of recall notices.

Tesla drivers report a surge in ‘phantom braking’

Late last month, Tesla told NHTSA it was issuing a recall over an issue where its vehicles equipped with Full Self-Driving beta, a driver-assistance suite, rolled through stop signs without making a full stop. The recall affected nearly 54,000 vehicles equipped with the software.

Earlier this week The Washington Post reported that NHTSA was looking into a sharp increase in owner complaints over alleged “phantom braking,” where the vehicles suddenly slow because of perceived hazards detected by its perception systems. Tesla switched from a radar and camera system to a camera-based system in the middle of last year.

On Thursday U.S. Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) issued a joint statement raising concerns about the phantom braking issue.

“Although automated driving and driver assistance systems have the potential to enhance safety, they must be implemented with strong safeguards that will ensure our cars follow the rules of the road and drivers are fully engaged,” they said. “We commend NHTSA for its ongoing work to investigate the situation and urge it to continue taking all appropriate action to protect all users of the road.”

The issue with the seat-belt chimes has not led to any known injuries or deaths, according to the recall report. And when vehicles exceed 22 kilometers-per-hour, or about 13.7 mph, the seat-belt warning will still chime, the report said. Meanwhile, a visual seat-belt reminder continues to work properly, it said.