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US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Requests Information from Tesla on Autonomous Driving Systems

The United States’ largest electric car manufacturer, Tesla, finds itself under scrutiny as the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues a directive for detailed information concerning its autonomous driving systems. Specifically, the NHTSA has requested comprehensive data on driver assistance, driver monitoring systems, and mode settings, including the previously undisclosed “Elon Mode.”

This development arises in the context of Tesla’s Autopilot software, prompting the NHTSA to investigate whether the system adequately ensures driver attention during operation. This inquiry was catalyzed by Tesla’s alterations to the mechanism for detecting driver engagement. The agency’s concerns are outlined in a document published on Tuesday, August 29th.

Of particular note is the NHTSA’s apprehension regarding Tesla’s recent changes that permit drivers to employ automated driving systems over extended durations. In response to these concerns, the NHTSA has issued a set of inquiries and document requests, seeking clarification from Tesla on these modifications.

A formal statement from the NHTSA to Tesla emphasized the potential risks associated with a relaxation of driving controls, which could inadvertently lead to reckless behavior or improper management of the automation.

The backdrop of this development traces back to August 2021, when the NHTSA initiated an investigation into Tesla’s self-driving systems following a series of accidents involving Tesla vehicles and emergency vehicles such as fire engines. Tesla responded by implementing updates to its vehicle software, designed to enhance the detection of emergency vehicles and improve overall safety.

Yet, as the NHTSA’s Chief Counsel and Vehicle Defects Division delve into the matter, they have solicited Tesla to provide justifications for the software updates and the legal and technical rationale for doing so without issuing a recall notice. This action highlights the agency’s commitment to scrutinizing potential safety concerns within the realm of autonomous driving technologies.

It’s important to note that Tesla has previously grappled with regulatory matters. In mid-February of this year, the company issued a recall for approximately 362,000 vehicles in the US due to concerns over the “Full Self-Driving Beta” (FSD Beta) software. The recall was prompted by the software’s potential to result in vehicles violating traffic regulations before drivers could regain control, further underscoring the importance of responsible driver engagement and oversight even when utilizing advanced automation features.

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