Tesla’s ‘Elon Mode’ Is Being Investigated After Autopilot Crashes

Tesla, the innovative electric vehicle manufacturer led by Elon Musk, is facing scrutiny from federal automotive safety regulators due to its “Elon mode” configuration. This once-secret feature allows Tesla drivers to use the company’s driver assistance systems, such as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD), without the usual prompts that ensure driver engagement.

Traditionally, Tesla’s driver assistance systems display visual cues on the touchscreen to remind drivers to hold the steering wheel. If the driver fails to respond, the system issues warnings and can even disable advanced driver assistance features. However, with the “Elon mode” activated, these reminders can be bypassed, potentially allowing drivers to use Autopilot and FSD without actively participating in the driving process.

Tesla was given a special order by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requiring them to provide detailed information regarding the use of this configuration, including the number of vehicles and drivers permitted to use it. The safety consequences of allowing drivers to operate automobiles with driver assistance technologies without the necessary supervision are at the heart of the NHTSA’s worries.

John Donaldson, acting senior counsel for the NHTSA, wrote to the agency stating that “NHTSA is concerned about the safety impacts of recent changes to Tesla’s driver monitoring system… for extended periods without Autopilot prompting the driver to apply torque to the steering wheel.”

Tesla has been given until August 25 to provide the requested information. While the company met the deadline, their response has been granted confidential treatment by the NHTSA. As of now, Tesla has not publicly commented on this issue.

On the topic, experts in the fields of vehicle technology and safety have spoken. According to Philip Koopman, an associate professor of computer engineering, “Hidden features that degrade safety have no place in production software.” Further worries about the safety of the technology have also been highlighted by the investigations into crashes employing Tesla’s Autopilot systems that are still underway.

Elon Musk’s recent livestreamed test drive of a Tesla equipped with the company’s FSD software drew attention. During the drive, Musk appeared to disregard the requirement to keep his hands on the steering wheel, which is highlighted in Tesla’s own terms of use for the system. This demonstration has further fueled criticism and has drawn the attention of regulators.

While Tesla continues to pioneer advancements in electric vehicles and autonomous driving technology, the “Elon mode” investigation serves as a reminder of the challenges and responsibilities associated with developing and deploying these cutting-edge features in a safe and compliant manner.

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