The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reached out to Tesla with questions about a tweet by Elon Musk that suggested he was removing a key safety feature from the company’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) system. The news was first reported by the Associated Press.
An NHTSA spokesman confirmed that the agency reached out to Tesla to gather information about the Musk tweet, in which the controversial billionaire suggested eliminating a driver monitoring feature that warns users to keep their hands on the wheel while driving Use FSD.
NHTSA’s intelligence gathering is part of a broader investigation into Tesla’s autopilot, which has been linked to over a dozen stationary emergency vehicle accidents.
NHTSA’s intelligence gathering is part of a broader investigation into Tesla’s autopilot
On Dec. 31, Musk tweeted that Tesla would be releasing an over-the-air software update in January to remove the driver surveillance alert, in response to a request from Omar Qazi, a Tesla shareholder who went by the name @WholeMarsBlog tweets. Qazi suggested that FSD Beta users with more than 10,000 miles should have the option to turn off the “steering wheel nag”.
Companies like General Motors and Ford are currently selling cars with camera-based eye-tracking systems designed to ensure drivers are alert when using hands-free functions.
For years, regulators and safety experts have been urging Tesla to add better driver monitoring to its cars
Tesla, meanwhile, uses torque sensors embedded in the steering wheel to ensure drivers have their hands ready. However, some drivers have used weights and other methods to trick the system into believing their hands are on the wheel. Consumer Reports discovered that a heavy chain could be used to simulate hands on the wheel, allowing researchers to drive several miles around in a Tesla Model Y while sitting in the back seat.
All Tesla vehicles today come standard with a driver assistance feature called Autopilot. For an additional $15,000, owners can purchase the Full Self-Driving option, which Musk has repeatedly promised will one day bring fully autonomous capabilities to Tesla vehicle owners. To date, FSD remains an advanced level 2 driver assistance system, which means that the driver must remain fully involved in the operation of the vehicle while driving.
FSD, currently available to all option buyers in North America, gives users access to Autopilot’s semi-automated driver assistance system on city and country roads. The system predicts acceleration and deceleration, cornering – including unprotected left turns, which are extremely difficult for automated systems – and recognizes traffic lights and other road signs.
Tesla has been in hot water with the federal government over reports of FSD malfunctions and other safety issues. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating 16 accidents in which Tesla vehicle owners using Autopilot crashed into stationary emergency vehicles, resulting in 15 injuries and one death. Tesla is facing a possible recall of Autopilot, FSD, or both, after the government improved its investigation earlier this year.
The company has been accused of false advertising by regulators and has been sued by customers for allegedly misleading them about the capabilities of their vehicles. But FSD is also critical to Musk’s vision of a fully driverless future. And Musk himself has largely avoided any serious consequences so far in his efforts to obfuscate the limitations of Tesla’s autonomous driving technology.