The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent Tesla two letters criticising the company's use of non-disclosure agreements for owners who get early access to its full self-driving software beta, as well as its decision to fix an issue with an over-the-air software update rather than a recall, according to regulators.
Tesla and its practises relating to over-the-air software updates and automated driving functions under its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system are being scrutinised by the NHTSA.
Autopilot is a driver assistance technology that comes standard on Tesla vehicles. Owners can upgrade to complete self-driving software for an extra $10,000, which is expected to provide full autonomous driving capabilities in the future.
Concept of full autonomous EV without a steering wheel
For years, FSD has been accessible as an option, with prices progressively rising and new features being introduced. Summon, a parking tool, and Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and lane changes, are both included in FSD. The latest FSD beta is designed to automate highway and city street driving.
This is still a Level 2 driver assistance system, which means the driver must remain alert, keep their hands on the wheel, and maintain control at all times.
NHTSA writes to Tesla
Tesla has been questioned about why it didn't issue a recall after using a software update to improve how its Autopilot advanced driving assistance system recognises emergency vehicles in low-light situations. Using an over-the-air software update to remedy anything related to vehicle safety, according to the NHTSA, should be considered a recall.
The NHTSA said in its correspondence to the EV manufacturer:
“As Tesla is aware, the Safety Act imposes an obligation on manufacturers of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment to initiate a recall by notifying NHTSA when they determine vehicles or equipment they produced contain defects related to motor vehicle safety or do not comply with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard. Any manufacturer issuing an over-the-air update that mitigates a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required to timely file an accompanying recall notice to NHTSA”.
A recall notification must be filed with the NHTSA within five working days of the manufacturer knowing or should have known of the safety flaw or noncompliance, according to the agency.
Tesla's use of NDAs for its so-called FSD early access beta release programme was the subject of another letter from the government. Owners have already paid for FSD, but access to the beta software requires signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Musk added a new criteria last month: a safety score that analyses personal driving data to evaluate whether owners are eligible for the current beta version.
Tesla's Safety Score Dashboard for FSD Beta
In another letter sent to Tesla, the NHTSA said:
“Given that NHTSA relies on reports from consumers as an important source of information in evaluating potential safety defects, any agreement that may prevent or dissuade participants in the early access beta release program from reporting safety concerns to NHTSA is unacceptable. Moreover, even limitations on sharing certain information publicly adversely impacts NHTSA’s ability to obtain information relevant to safety. In order to ensure that non-disclosure agreements regarding the FSD early access beta release do not interfere with NHTSA’s ability to exercise its oversight responsibilities we are issuing the attached Special Order to Tesla.”
This week, Musk said on Twitter that Tesla will no longer require NDAs.
In a tongue-and-cheek response to a user on a Twitter who stated that Tesla had dropped the NDS for FSD Beta, Musk replied that they will be available in “perforated rolls”.
The agency, on the other hand, is looking for more details and has given Tesla until November 1 to answer to both requests.