Every car equipped with a steering-assist system has several safety measures to prevent distracted driving. Typically, the system will yell at you if you momentarily take your hands off the steering wheel. Trigger this enough times or keep your hands off the wheel long enough and you'll get a final warning—usually meaning the system will turn off and you'll have to regain full control. That's how all SAE Level 2 autonomous driving assistants work, except Tesla's Autopilot. According to the NHTSA, Tesla systems haven't been properly alerting drivers who take their hands off the wheel, so the U.S. safety regulator has prompted a recall for all Tesla models sold with Autopilot from 2012 until now.
According to reports, that's more than 2 million vehicles, or "nearly all of the vehicles Tesla sold in the U.S. and includes models Y, S, 3 and X produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year," according to CBS News.
We've all seen the videos of Tesla drivers jumping in the backseat, leaving the driver's seat vacant while the car cruises down a highway. As a result of the lax system, owners have misused and abused its privileges. And even when it does warn drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, owners have figured out countless ways to trick its system into thinking they're complying. There are even steering wheel weights sold specifically to trick the Tesla into thinking drivers' hands are on the wheel.
In 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) opened an investigation into 11 incidents in which a Tesla with engaged Autopilot crashed. The investigation results led the NHTSA to learn that if a driver "misuses" Autopilot's autosteer system, there can be an increased risk of a crash. While Tesla didn't concur with the NHTSA's determination, it voluntarily issued the recall.
Admittedly, the recall is a simple software update, which will add "controls and alerts" to help prevent drivers from misusing the autosteer function. The update will be done over the air, so no major repairs are needed, nor will there even be a need for customers to bring their cars to service centers. However, the update is required for all 2,031,220 S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y built during the aforementioned dates. It's important to note that all models built after Dec. 7, 2023, will have the updated software installed from the factory.
Tesla's Autopilot has been under heavy scrutiny for years, both for its lax approach to driver attention and its inability to recognize and avoid objects, road signs, pedestrians, and even oncoming trains. Admittedly, there's a difference between Tesla's regular Autopilot and its "Full Self-Driving Capability," but the NHTSA says that neither is a true, fully self-driving autonomous system. Even Tesla says that "Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment. While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous."
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