NHTSA raises concerns over hands-free version of Autopilot

Tesla is facing more questions from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about its Autopilot technology. This time the federal agency is concerned about a potential version of Autopilot that allows drivers to engage the advanced driver-assist function without exerting any torque on the steering wheel to show they are paying attention.

The NHTSA issued a Special Order to Tesla on July 26th, expressing concerns about this hands-free Autopilot capability. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Drive Tesla, the agency sought answers to a host of questions about the technology, suggesting potential safety risks associated with the removal of the steering wheel nag.

Provide the dates that the subject software update was introduced to Tesla engineering and then consumer vehicles, the software/firmware version that first contained the subject software update for both instances, and the number of vehicles in which the subject software update is installed in both groupings. Also separately provide the number of vehicles on which the setting that reduces or eliminates instances in which Autopilot prompts the driver to apply torque has been enabled for Tesla engineering vehicles and for consumer vehicles.

The letter doesn’t mention when they believe this software version first appeared on their radar, and as far as we are aware there is no version publicly available that allows owners to turn off or reduce the number of times the steering wheel nag initiates. It could however be related to the discovery of a setting hidden within FSD Beta by hacker @greentheonly which allows the steering wheel nag to be turned off, a setting which he called “Elon Mode.”

Tesla was given until August 25 to respond, or face fines of up to $26,315 per day.

This letter comes alongside NHTSA’s ongoing investigation into over a dozen incidents involving Tesla vehicles colliding with stationary emergency vehicles in which Autopilot was allegedly activated. As we reported last week, this two-year-long investigation is nearing its conclusion, according to comments from acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson.

It should be noted that this letter, which can be read in full below, is dated July 26, several weeks before the aforementioned comments by Carlson.

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