The very fact of selling something does not necessarily mean that it is, in fact, exactly what is being advertised. For a long time Tesla had a somehow overly flexible policy when it comes to autonomous driving, or FSD (Full Self Driving). The Austin company has always offered its driving assistance package, FSD, with a name that is allegedly misleading, according to expert official sources.
But If a clueless or negligent driver is added to the equation, the mixture can potentially be highly explosive. With the US transportation authorities watching closely, Tesla has taken a very serious step to prevent its customers from losing focus behind the wheel drive when they activate the FSD driving package; a measure that not everyone liked, though.
The different levels of autonomous driving make it possible to recognize which cars can operate without human supervision and which cannot. At level 3 the driver is free to take the steering wheel and look away, although not at all times. For now, in the United States, the first manufacturer to have a license for such assisted driving is actually German manufacturer Mercedes Benz. In Europe the “liberation” is somewhat greater since the circulation of cars with level 4 autonomy is allowed, a level that in fact does allow the total neglect of the human being in relation to circulation and driving.
Even though it is one of the best driver assistance packages, Tesla's FSD system is at the end of the day only a level 2 feature, so it is the driver who has the final responsibility regarding driving the car. The United States authorities maintain the pressure on Tesla to change the way it sells the assistant package: a few weeks ago the State of California, under a court order, forced the company to change the name so that it would not confuse customers.
Within this atmosphere of vigilance, Tesla has decided that it will also punish those users who do not comply with the rules. If a Tesla driver repeatedly ignores the safety warnings - through audio warnings and visual cues - while usung the FSD program (i.e. by not keeping hands on the steering wheel), the system will automatically ban its use for two weeks.
As stated in the latest software update: "Suspension of total autonomous driving (Beta): for maximum safety and responsibility, the use of total autonomous driving (Beta) will be suspended if inappropriate use is detected". As for what exactly “inappropriate use” is, they understand it as when the regular pilot or another driver of the vehicle receives five 'autopilot forced disconnections'.
At the fifth disconnection of the driving assistant, the car will automatically deny access to autonomous driving for two weeks, and the driver will not be able to reverse the punishment measure. This has not gone down well with everyone, as many users consider it actually unfair; keep in mind that in the United States the FSD Beta system is priced at a hefty $15,000.
In any case, it is a measure that must be analyzed with perspective, to say the least: Tesla has considerably reduced the penalty since at first, the basic idea was to include the drivers in a blacklist and deny them the use of the assistants for an undisclosed period. The intention is, again, to make users aware of the need to pay attention to the road at all times.
So far, many Tesla customers have managed to “cheat” the system by using a counterweight or similar tricks, something to which we referred in other articles before. On different Internet pages it is possible to buy a gadgets designed to trick the technology (in some cases, very basic things/tools), at least up until a few months ago.
Knowing of the practice by many of its users, the November 2022 update of the FSD Beta package introduced a sensor that detects the weight countermeasure and forces, once again, to place the hands correctly on the wheel and to demonstrate to the system that the driver is paying attention to the road. At this point, the company cannot afford any more security flaws in a technology that is beginning to be questioned by authorities.
Given the seriousness of the matter, it is convenient to hope that the users of this system abide by the rules. For now, the most important thing is to bear in mind that no user, however experienced they may think they are, can play with the system and neglect the security measures that the assistant has in place. FSD is not a toy and the consequences of misuse can have severe consequences and have the system suspended for two weeks, to begin with.
All images courtesy of Tesla Inc.
Nico Caballero is the VP of Finance of Cogency Power, specializing in solar energy. He also holds a Diploma in Electric Cars from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and enjoys doing research about Tesla and EV batteries. He can be reached at @NicoTorqueNews on Twitter. Nico covers Tesla and electric vehicle latest happenings at Torque News.