Tesla owners report more ‘phantom braking’ issues

Derryn Wong

750 cases of sudden autonomous braking reported in Model 3 and Model Y cars in the USA, NHTSA probe ongoing

First published: June 6, 2022
Updated: June 10, 2022 with information about Full Self-Driving availability in Singapore

United States – Electric carmaker Tesla is facing increasing scrutiny in the USA with increasing reports of its cars exhibiting phantom braking behaviour. 

Phantom braking is when a car brakes autonomously despite there being no clear reason for it to do so. In the specific case of the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, drivers/owners have reported the vehicles applying the brakes, sometimes coming to a complete halt on highway/freeways, without driver input. 

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Media reports first appeared in February this year The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the matter in February, and sent Tesla an official request for information in May. The company has until June 20, 2022 to comply with the NHTSA request. From around 350 cases in February, phantom braking reports have increased to 758 reports as of June 4, 2022. 

“The complaints allege that while utilising the ADAS features including adaptive cruise control, the vehicle unexpectedly applies its brakes while driving at highway speeds. Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, at random, and often repeatedly in a single drive cycle” quotes the NHTSA in its preliminary report. 

The NHTSA makes vehicle safety reports from owners publicly visible on its website, and many of them relate to phantom braking for the Model 3.  “I was on a major interstate in the middle of the day, perfectly marked lanes, no gradient changes, no weather or visibility issues, with absolutely nothing in front of me. The car would suddenly brake aggressively for no reason, sometimes hard enough to hurt my neck. If another car had been following me, I would have been immediately rear ended,” said one report, dated May 21, 2022.  

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Should Singaporean Tesla drivers of the Model 3 be worried? We have reached out to Tesla for comment, but in the mean time, it may not be an issue for Singaporean customers just yet. the issue is limited to those testing Tesla’s newest software.

That’s because phantom braking or faulty AEB (autonomous emergency braking) is reportedly linked to preliminary or beta versions of Tesla’s ‘Full Self Driving’ or FSD software. 

FSD is a US$10,000 optional software package that enables advanced driver assistance features, and is currently only available to Tesla owners in North America. UPDATE: According to Tesla’s website, Tesla owners in Singapore can purchase FSD for S$11,500 through the Tesla app.

Despite the name, Tesla says that it is not a fully autonomous driving software, and driver supervision will still be required. In any case, the barriers to autonomous driving are still very much in place for most of the world.

FSD itself is not without controversy. There have been criticisms levelled at its name and the fact that customers are paying essentially be beta-testers for the product (it is not finished). Lastly, observers have said that this process of testing unfinished software could itself be dangerous – as phantom braking seems to show. Elon Musk made bold announcements about FSD’s capabilities as early as 2016, which haven’t been delivered on.

This isn’t Tesla’s first safety-related tussle – its standard Autopilot assist system is also undergoing a probe for incidents involving emergency vehicles. If anything, it shows how active safety systems are extremely complex engineering products, requiring intensive research and development, and are still never failsafe.


active safety autonomous driving autopilot EV FSD model 3 model y probe recall safety tesla

About the Author

Derryn Wong

CarBuyer's chief editor brings 15 years of experience in automotive journalism. Previously, he was the editor for Top Gear Singapore, and a presenter for CNA's Cruise Control motoring segment. He's contributed to The Business Times, Today, and many other publications, and also covered technology as editor of Stuff magazine. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he is the Chief Slave of two cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong

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