Federal regulators keep their eyes on the launch of the Tesla “fully autonomous” experiment. This week, the automaker began testing the beta version of its latest advanced 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 spokesperson for the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it will closely monitor the new technology and will not hesitate to take measures to protect the public from unreasonable risks to safety. The statement also included some observations on Tesla’s decision to describe its driver assistance feature as “self-driving” (assure us):
“As we have consistently mentioned, There is no car available for purchase today that can drive on its own. The latest vehicle technology available for purchase today provides driver assistance and requires a fully alert human driver at all times to perform the driving task and monitor the surrounding environment. Abuse of these technologies is at least a distracting driving. Every country in the country holds the driver responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle. “
Tesla has a checkered history with the NHTSA, the federal agency that can issue recalls and investigate car accidents. In 2019, the NHTSA opened an investigation into vehicle fires complaints related to the battery management systems of some Model S and X vehicles. The agency also investigated multiple fatal accidents involving autopilots. Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the advanced driver assistance system was a possible cause of the fatal 2018 accident in which a California man was killed after a Model X collided with a concrete barrier.
“Full Autonomous Driving” is a $ 8,000 (and soon to be $ 10,000, according to Elon Musk) option that allows Tesla owners to use the “Navigate on Autopilot” functionality for only city highways and residential streets. The car will stop at intersections, turn left and right, and change lane automatically, as long as the driver has chosen a destination in the navigation system.
Tesla cautions that drivers need to keep their eyes on the road and have their hands on the steering wheel at all times – although the popular automaker refuses to include a robust driver monitoring system (such as infrared eye tracking) to ensure its customers follow safety protocols. As such, fully autonomous driving is a “partially automatic” Tier 2 system in accordance with SAE standards. The NHTSA describes it as “the Autosteer of City Streets”, using the trademark to help preserve lane in Tesla.
Musk misrepresented it as a “Level 5” even though there is no Level 5 system anywhere in the world at this time.