Federal vehicle regulators sent a letter to Tesla last month ordering the company to send data about its driver assistance and monitoring systems due to a once-secret feature that lets users use autopilot without putting their hands on the steering wheel.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted the letter on its website Wednesday, saying that the secret hands-free feature — nicknamed “Elon mode” — is concerning for driver safety.
“NHTSA is concerned that this feature was introduced to consumer vehicles, and now that the existence of this feature is known to the public, more drivers may attempt to activate it,” John Donaldson, acting chief counsel for the agency, wrote in the July 26 letter.
“The resulting relaxation of controls designed to ensure that the driver remain engaged in the dynamic driving task could lead to greater driver inattention and failure of the driver to properly supervise Autopilot,” Donaldson continued.
Drivers are typically required to have their hands constantly on the wheel of a vehicle in autopilot, and are usually prompted with a warning if their hands are not. “Elon Mode” turns those warnings off, allowing drivers to go completely hands-free.
The company has repeatedly iterated that a driver’s attention is required when a vehicle is in autopilot in order to avoid accidents, as the technology has come under increased scrutiny from regulators.
The letter demands a response from the company on why it rolled out the feature and any plans it has for future distribution. The company was required to respond by Aug. 25, or it could face fines of $26,000 per day. It is unclear if the company responded to the letter.
The Hill has reached out to Tesla for comment.
Last month, the California Attorney General’s office announced an investigation into Tesla over the safety of its autopilot software. The office alleged that Tesla’s autopilot is less safe than advertised and that the advertising of its capabilities were misleading.
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