Tesla Inc. is facing increased scrutiny from federal regulators over its driver-assistance system known as Autopilot, with investigators demanding to know if the electric carmaker has made it easier for drivers to take their hands off the wheel.
(Bloomberg) — Tesla Inc. is facing increased scrutiny from federal regulators over its driver-assistance system known as Autopilot, with investigators demanding to know if the electric carmaker has made it easier for drivers to take their hands off the wheel.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a letter posted to agency’s website on Tuesday that it has become aware Tesla has “introduced an Autopilot configuration that, when enabled, allows drivers using Autopilot to operate their vehicles for extended periods without Autopilot prompting the driver to apply torque to the steering wheel.”
The agency’s letter, which was dated July 26, asked Tesla to respond by Aug. 25 to address the possibility the feature could be used to subvert efforts to keep drivers alert and ready to resume full control of the vehicle.
NHTSA confirmed in a second document posted Tuesday that the Elon Musk-led company submitted a confidential reply in time to meet that deadline. Tesla had no immediate response to a request for comment.
Tesla shares rose 7.7% Tuesday in New York, the most since March. The stock has more than doubled so far this year.
Tesla’s website notes that the Autopilot software is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”
The regulator’s letter about the software configuration comes after a June CNBC report about an Autopilot setting that allows drivers to keep their hands off the wheel for an extended time period, what one online security researcher dubbed “Elon mode.”
The ongoing Autopilot probe, which NHTSA launched in 2021, is among a series of investigations targeting Tesla, its products and Musk, its chief executive officer. Federal regulators are looking into possible problems with Tesla’s seat belts, steering wheels and driver-assistance features.
Read more: Tesla Autopilot Probed by U.S. Over Crash-Scene Collisions
The investigation was launched almost a dozen collisions involving first-responder vehicles and Tesla models which are believed to have had Autopilot software engaged.
Tesla has long said its driver-assistance software is not a substitute for a driver and that “currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous.” But safety advocates criticize the company’s marketing of the system under the name “Autopilot” as misleading.
(Updates with closing share price in fifth paragraph)
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