Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ beta test has caught the attention of federal security regulators

Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ beta test has caught the attention of federal security regulators


Federal regulators are overseeing the launch of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” experiment. This week, the automaker kicked off beta testing of its latest state-of-the-art driver assistance software with a select group of customers, and so far, the government is taking a wait-and-see approach.

In a statement, a spokesman for the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would “monitor the new technology closely and will not hesitate to take action to protect the public against unreasonable safety risks.” The statement also included some footnoting of Tesla’s decision to describe its driver assist feature as “self-driving” (emphasis ours):

As we have stated consistently, no vehicle available for purchase today is capable of driving itself. The most advanced vehicle technologies available for purchase today provide driver assistance and require a fully attentive human driver at all times performing the driving task and monitoring the surrounding environment. Abusing these technologies is, at a minimum, distracted driving. Every State in the Nation holds the driver responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle.”

Tesla has a checkered history with NHTSA, a federal agency that can issue recalls and investigate car accidents. In 2019, the NHTSA opened an investigation into complaints about vehicle fires related to battery management systems in several Model S and X vehicles. The agency has also investigated several fatal accidents involving the Autopilot. Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that a sophisticated driver assistance system was one of the possible causes of the 2018 fatal accident, in which a Californian man died after his Model X hit a concrete barrier.

“Full Self-Driving” is an $8,000 (and soon to be $10,000, according to Elon Musk) option that allows Tesla owners to use the vehicle’s previously highway-only “Navigate on Autopilot” function on the city and residential streets. The car will stop at intersections, perform left- and right-hand turns, and lane change automatically, as long as the driver has selected a destination in the navigation.

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Tesla warns that drivers need to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel at all times — through the automaker famously refuses to include a robust driver-monitoring system (like infrared eye-tracking) to ensure its customers are following safety protocols. As such, Full Self-Driving is only considered a Level 2 “partially automated” system by the Society of Automotive Engineers’ standards. NHTSA characterizes it as “Autosteer on city streets,” using the branding for Tesla’s lane-keep assistance feature.

Musk misinterpreted it as “Level 5” even though no Level 5 system existed anywhere in the world today.

Keywords: tesla, tesla full self driving, tesla model 3 self-driving, tesla self-driving car