Federal Regulators to Probe Tesla's Mysterious “Elon Mode”

In a recent twist involving automotive safety, Tesla finds itself under the microscope of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

by Faruk Imamovic
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Federal Regulators to Probe Tesla's Mysterious “Elon Mode”
© Getty Images News/Sean Gallup

In a recent twist involving automotive safety, Tesla finds itself under the microscope of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The prominent electric vehicle manufacturer has been sent a special order, demanding thorough data related to its driver assistance, driver monitoring systems, and a previously undisclosed configuration dubbed the “Elon mode”.

"Elon Mode": An Enigma Wrapped in Red Tape

Revealed in a letter dated July 26, the NHTSA is vigorously investigating the details surrounding this unique configuration, primarily how many Tesla vehicles and drivers have been given access to it.

This letter surfaced on the agency's website earlier this week, with Bloomberg initially shedding light on it. John Donaldson, the agency’s acting chief counsel, voiced the NHTSA's concerns in the letter: “NHTSA is concerned about the safety impacts of recent changes to Tesla’s driver monitoring system.

This concern is based on information suggesting that it might be feasible for vehicle owners to modify Autopilot’s driver monitoring configurations. This alteration could potentially allow the driver to utilize the Autopilot feature for prolonged durations without the system prompting them to exert force on the steering wheel”.

Tesla has been presented with a tight deadline: furnish all the requested details by August 25.

Safety Over Secrets: Experts Weigh In

Upon the disclosure of this special order, Philip Koopman, an esteemed automotive safety researcher and an associate professor of computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, shared his perspective with CNBC: “It seems that NHTSA takes a dim view of cheat codes that permit the deactivation of pivotal safety features like driver monitoring.

I concur. Concealed functionalities that compromise safety shouldn't find their way into production software”. While the implications of “Elon mode” remain uncertain, Tesla has consistently stressed the importance of safe driving practices.

A section on Tesla’s official website, titled “Using Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability,” adamantly advises drivers: “It is your obligation to remain vigilant, ensure your hands remain on the steering wheel continually, and always maintain control over your vehicle”.

This unfolding story raises numerous questions about the blurred lines between innovative vehicle features and road safety, reminding us of the paramount importance of clear regulations in the rapidly evolving world of automotive technology.

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