Tesla is constantly in the news, but not always for the right reasons. Imagine: You're going down the highway, and your car slams on the brakes out of nowhere. This issue, known as "phantom braking," is giving Tesla owners a scare.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) received enough complaints about phantom braking to launch a formal investigation in 2022. Coupled with a filing to initiate a class action lawsuit, what's next? Can you seek compensation if your Tesla is phantom braking?
What Is Tesla's Phantom Braking Problem & Why Is It Happening?
Tesla's phantom braking issue involves an issue with its advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), Autopilot, which allows the vehicle to monitor blind spots and provides lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise, and emergency braking. It's a malfunction with this last feature causing the phantom braking—rapid, unexpected deceleration due to Autopilot activating the brakes for no apparent reason.
Understanding how automatic emergency braking works allows us to understand why this might be happening. Emergency braking is meant to slow down or stop the vehicle in the event of an impending collision, and this safety feature typically warns the driver first and then, if there's no response, applies the brakes. The problem is certain Tesla models are braking, sometimes at highway speeds, seemingly randomly, as if something has been detected in the road ahead.
How Common Is Phantom Braking?
In a May 4, 2022 letter to Tesla, the NHTSA states [PDF]:
This office has received (758) seven hundred and fifty-eight reports of unexpected brake activation in certain (MY) 2021-2022 Model 3 & Y vehicles. A copy of each of the reports is enclosed for your information.
However, the true value is likely higher as not everyone has filed a formal report. The NHSTA estimates the number of affected Tesla vehicles could be around 416,000, though it's impossible to get a true reading.
Which Tesla Models Are Affected by Phantom Braking?
The current investigation involves the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.
Tesla owners love their vehicles, and to save a lengthy period in the garage, some Model 3 owners have taken to Reddit to share tips on how to reduce phantom braking—though there doesn't seem to be much consensus. What many do agree on, though, is that "babysitting" the car is nerve-racking.
If you own one of these models and are experiencing phantom braking, be sure to call the dealer immediately and consider reporting the issue to the NHSTA to help them get a better idea of the scope of the problem. You may even have a lawsuit on your hands.
Why Are Tesla Owners Suing?
If you've ever had to slam on the brakes because the person in front of you stops suddenly, you know it's a stressful experience. Besides the unpleasant jolt of adrenaline, it creates a dangerous situation as multiple drivers often have to react in milliseconds to prevent a crash. Given that Tesla added $3K to the price of its Full Self Driving software, it's also an insult to the wallet. It's no wonder Tesla owners are suing over phantom braking.
Several weeks ago, legal firm Bursor & Fisher stated that Tesla knowingly sold unsafe vehicles and sought $5 million in damages on behalf of the plaintiff, Jose Alvarez Toledo, a San Francisco Tesla Model 3 owner (first reported by Reuters). Attorneys filed a motion in federal court in Northern California on behalf of their client to initiate a class action lawsuit against Tesla.
How Many Are Suing? Can You Join the Tesla Class Action?
A class action lawsuit means multiple plaintiffs (the "class") are suing Tesla over the phantom braking issue. Class action lawsuits are a way to keep the court system from getting bogged down by every individual suing over the same issue. To initiate a class action lawsuit, a lawyer must file a claim with the court. If approved, other Tesla owners could join the class.
If the phantom braking class action lawsuit proceeds, it remains to be seen how many Tesla owners will join in. Legal fees often take up the bulk of the settlement in a class action lawsuit, leaving little behind to be divided among the "class." Therefore, some owners may opt out of the class and sue individually for phantom braking damages and repairs.
Depending on your state, there are different ways to go about this, and you can either represent yourself (pro se) if you're comfortable or hire an attorney. In certain states, like Massachusetts, for example, it could be advantageous for consumers to file a complaint (known as a Chapter 93A Demand Letter) directly with Tesla before proceeding with legal action. Again, you'll need to research what's best for your situation based on your state's laws.
No Phantom Braking Crashes—Yet
While there haven't been any reported crashes due to phantom braking yet, it's a reminder that even though advanced safety features are already saving lives, many bugs need to be worked out. Furthermore, it's useful to know that Tesla isn't the only manufacturer that's experienced phantom braking. So if you drive a Model 3 or Model Y and have experienced phantom braking, keep your eyes on the road and stay tuned to see what legal remedies lay ahead.