This petition urges the NHTSA to stop calling OTA updates ‘recalls’

Credit: Tesla

One Tesla shareholder has launched a new petition encouraging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to change the language surrounding safety recalls that are fixed with an over-the-air (OTA) software update.

On Tuesday, Sawyer Merritt announced on X that he has launched a petition to urge the NHTSA to stop classifying OTA software updates as recalls and to end the use of paper recall notices—which are often sent months after an issue is fixed with an OTA update.

Merritt says he has discussed the problems with Tesla, adding that the company is also working on the issues.

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“We urge the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to modernize and simplify its vehicle recall practices,” Merritt writes in the petition. “As vehicles continue to get more technologically advanced, these common sense changes will help improve vehicle safety and consumer awareness.”

In the past, many media outlets have reported on the “major safety recalls” affecting Tesla’s vehicles when they were simply fixed with an OTA update, rather than needing to be brought in for repairs. As one recent example, many publications recently blasted Tesla over an NHTSA safety recall affecting 2.2 million vehicles, although it simply required the automaker to make a font size bigger for its brake, park and antilock brake systems.

Not unlike with a smartphone, these kinds of issues are often fixed overnight in an OTA software update, though NHTSA letters for the widespread font recall weren’t mailed out until about two months later.

In a response to the petition, and to questions about considering a digital alternative in addition to or instead of paper recall letters, an NHTSA spokesperson told us the following:

“Defects that pose an unreasonable risk to safety are serious and should be remedied as soon as possible. Federal law requires manufacturers to issue recalls to remedy safety defects and noncompliances and issue notices to vehicle owners via first class mail.

“On background, a recall notification is an important acknowledgment of a safety defect or noncompliance with a safety regulation, regardless of the manner of the repair. The consumer needs to know of over-the-air remedies in case of an issue downloading the repair or if the safety defect or noncompliance persists due to an inadequate remedy.

“Unlike a software update to a computer or phone, a safety defect in a vehicle can put the lives of vehicle occupants and others on the road at risk.”

At the initial time of writing, Merritt’s petition is up to 1,483 signatures, just over an hour after it was launched. Tesla has not responded to Teslarati’s request for comment on the petition as of publishing.

“Manufacturers are required to initiate a recall for any repair, including a software update, that remedies an unreasonable risk to safety,” an NHTSA spokesperson told Teslarati in an email in January.

“NHTSA recalls can include any required repair, which includes a software update, to remedy a potential safety risk. Manufacturers are also required to submit any communications to owners, dealers, and others about any software updates that address a defect, whether it is safety related or not.”

Updated 5:20 p.m. MT: Added NHTSA’s emailed response to the petition.

What are your thoughts? Let me know at zach@teslarati.com, find me on X at @zacharyvisconti, or send your tips to us at tips@teslarati.com.

This petition urges the NHTSA to stop calling OTA updates ‘recalls’
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