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Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced they were expanding the Full-Self Driving Beta testing to an estimated 2,000 Tesla owners. However, the US car manufacturer has since taken access away from drivers participating in the FSD testing as they were not being cognizant enough, which could potentially cause issues for Tesla and its full software release.
Musk used his usual platform to tweet about the FSD update saying: "FSD Beta has now been expanded ... we've also revoked beta where drivers did not pay sufficient attention to the road. No accidents to date."
The Tesla boss always knew the testing of its full-driving software needs to be managed properly to avoid accidents, which would draw the attention of safety watchdogs. However, Tesla’s FSD beta testing has caught the eye of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which probably prompted Musk to reign in the drivers who weren’t playing by the rules.
Last month, the NTSB wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTS) calling for rigorous controls on autonomous driving testing on public roads. The federal agency's request for revised safety prerequisites for public roads testing and the proposed changes could alter the way Tesla rolls out features to its customers.
In the letter to the NHTS, Robert Sumwalt, NTSB Chairman states the following:
"Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that 'currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,' NHTSA's hands-off approach to oversight of AV testing poses a potential risk to motorists and other road users."
In the letter, Sumwalt mentioned Tesla about 16 times while calling for significant change.
“Tesla recently released a beta version of its Level 2 Autopilot system, described as having full self-driving capability. By releasing the system, Tesla is testing on public roads a highly automated AV technology but with limited oversight or reporting requirements."
While the NTSB and NHTSA are both automobile safety watchdogs in the US government, they have very different roles.
The NTSB investigates serious car accidents and consumer complaints to establish if there are any manufacturing faults that would prompt recalls. The NTSB is also responsible for recommending safety regulations and procedures to the auto industry. On the other hand, the NHTSA would authorize, and order recalls of vehicles, systems or parts considered to be defective or unsafe, and it defines standards and reporting requirements for vehicle safety and design, which includes fuel economy standards.
Previously, the NHTSA has been tentative in regulating automated driving systems that are coming from auto manufacturers like Tesla, Volvo, and GM, as well as from start-ups such as Amazon’s Zoox and Alphabet’s Waymo. James Owens, who is the NHTSA Deputy Administrator said he felt too much regulation from the start could potentially “stymie innovation”.
Tesla has branded its “autonomous” driving as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, but technically, these are advanced driver assist systems that are categorized as a Level 2, which means the vehicles have automated functions, but drivers still need to be attentive and ready to take control at a moment’s notice. Level 5 is reserved for complete autonomous vehicles that do not require driver intervention at all. In that case, the car wouldn’t need a steering wheel and all the occupants inside could go safely to sleep throughout their journey.
While we’re still quite a way off from seeing a Level 5 car on the road, Musk says that April will see another significant release of its FSD software, and it’s sounding more futuristic than ever:
"Going with pure vision — not even using radar," Musk tweeted. "This is the way to real-world AI."