Feds Investigating Musk’s Tweet About Full Self-Driving

Feds Investigating Musk’s Tweet About Full Self-Driving

One of Elon Musk’s many tweets is now part of an ongoing federal investigation into the safety of Tesla’s automated driver assistance system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requested more information from Tesla regarding a Dec. 31 post from Musk, as first reported by the Associated Press and confirmed by NHTSA in an email to Gizmodo.

In that aforementioned New Year’s Eve post, Musk implied that some Tesla drivers don’t need a reminder to keep their hands on the wheel and claimed the company was working on a software update to reduce such alerts.

NHTSA has been investigating Tesla over its Autopilot software since 2021. Last summer, the federal watchdog announced a major expansion of that investigation after identifying at least 16 instances of Tesla cars colliding with first responder vehicles. And another federal regulator, the US National Transportation Safety Board, has been investigating Tesla over individual accidents and other incidents for years.

However, amid federal scrutiny, Tesla began extensive beta testing of its “Full Self-Driving” mode in September 2021. “Full Self-Driving” is meant to be a more advanced version of Autopilot, though it’s not yet – as the name might imply – in fact completely self-driving. Both Autopilot and FSD require a human driver to stay alert at the wheel at all times, according to the company’s website.

But most drivers using the features reported feeling “comfortable” treating the vehicles as autonomous and fully self-driving, according to a 2022 survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Perhaps this attitude partly explains why Tesla reported more driver-assistance-related accidents than any other automaker in 2022.

Last October, the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation against Tesla over its autonomous driver assistance technology and how the company has marketed it, adding to the pile of federal investigations. And in December, California passed a law banning the “Full Self-Driving” label that will go into effect this year.

On top of Tesla’s misleading advertising, regulators have routinely pointed out that part of the automaker’s safety issues stem from a lack of driver monitoring. According to a report by The Verge, competing companies in the driver assistance space such as GM and Ford use camera-based eye tracking to ensure the driver’s attention. Tesla, instead, relies on steering wheel detection. Vehicles with FSD and Autopilot enabled issue automatic alerts to drivers to mind their steering wheel if the car detects that there are no hands after a certain period of time. (Never mind that it’s frighteningly easy to fool the steering wheel detection system.)

This brings us back to the Tesla CEO’s post in December. A user on the account @WholeMarsBlog tweeted that, “users with more than 10,000 miles on FSD Beta should be given the option to turn off steering wheel whine,” in a post tagging the billionaire. Musk then replied, “OK, the update is coming in January.”

It’s not clear what exactly Musk meant by this tweet. Ultimately, an “update” could mean that Tesla is switching to a Ford-style camera monitoring system, or it could mean that the timeline for warnings will be adjusted, as it has been previously, as noted by the AP.

However, in the immediate context of @WholeMarsBlog’s initial tweet and use of the term “nag,” the implication seems to be that steering wheel alerts are unnecessary for Tesla drivers who have driven a certain number of miles in their cars. theirs. The tweet may even imply that Tesla drivers using FSD do not need to be monitored or reminded to stay alert. Regardless of the exact meaning, the tweet was disturbing enough to get NHTSA’s attention.

A spokesperson from the administration wrote to Gizmodo that it “is in contact with Tesla to gather additional information,” regarding the tweet. “This matter falls under NHTSA’s ongoing Autopilot investigation, and the agency generally does not comment on open investigations,” the spokesperson further noted.

Disabling Tesla’s already sophisticated driver monitoring system could pose an additional safety risk to other drivers on the road, Jake Fisher, a vehicle testing expert at Consumer Reports, told The Associated Press. “Using FSD beta, you’re kind of part of an experiment,” Fisher said. “The problem is that the other road users next to you haven’t signed up to be part of that experiment.”

Tesla did not respond to Gizmodo’s questions or request for comment. The company disbanded its PR department in 2020.

It’s not the first time a tweet has landed Musk in hot water with federal regulators. In 2018, he joked that he was “considering taking Tesla private for $420” and ended up paying a $20 million fine for it. Then again, in 2019 he faced scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission over posts that appeared to contradict Tesla’s legally mandated quarterly report to shareholders. In 2022, the SEC had questions about Musk’s tweets about Twitter acquisitions. That’s all to say: the man can’t seem to learn – or he just can’t shake the urge to post. The social media platform he now owns seems to have more control over him than any company board or federal regulator ever did.

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