Tesla expands ‘full self-driving’ tests, bucking the feds’ safety concerns

Tesla is letting more drivers try out its “full self-driving” tool — just one week after the federal government’s top crash investigator warned that the company still hasn’t addressed “basic safety issues” with the feature. 

Tesla drivers can now use a “request” button on their vehicle’s screen to apply to join a beta test for the full self-driving feature, CEO Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter over the weekend. 

The full self-driving tool is supposed to allow Teslas to drive through crowded cities on their own — but despite its name, it still requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and stay alert.  

Before Tesla will approve a driver’s request to access the beta, the company will monitor their behavior behind the wheel for seven days, measuring factors like hard braking, aggressive turning and unsafe following of other vehicles, according to Musk and Tesla’s website

“If driving behavior is good for 7 days, beta access will be granted,” said Musk, who recently revealed that he’s “semi-separated” from Canadian singer Grimes

Drivers who make it past Tesla’s safety monitoring will have to pay $99 to $199 per month to access the full self-driving feature. 

By opening up the full self-driving test to potentially hundreds of thousands of drivers, Tesla is setting itself up for a clash with federal regulators. 

Earlier this month, National Transportation Safety Board head Jennifer Homendy told the Wall Street Journal that Tesla should not expand the full self-driving feature until it addresses the agency’s safety concerns. 

“Basic safety issues have to be addressed before they’re then expanding it to other city streets and other areas,” said Homendy. 

Homendy also said that calling the feature “full self-driving” in the first place is “misleading and irresponsible” since drivers are still supposed to stay alert while the tool is engaged. 

Concerns about the name of the feature have also been raised by Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts — and are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Critics have also argued that autonomous vehicle technology should not be tested on city streets, which are full of children, bicyclists and other cars that could potentially be hit by a vehicle running experimental software. 

On Monday, Vice reported that Tesla makes every full self-driving beta tester sign non-disclosure agreements and encourages drivers to share videos that make the experimental software look good.

“Do remember that there are a lot of people that want Tesla to fail; Don’t let them mischaracterize your feedback and media posts,” Tesla reportedly says in the mandatory NDA.  “Share on social media responsibly and selectively…consider sharing fewer videos, and only the ones that you think are interesting or worthy of being shared.” 

Tesla and the NTSB did not immediately reply to requests for comment. 


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