The latest Tesla software update includes changes to the Autopilot system aimed at keeping drivers paying attention.

    Update 2023.44.30.1 includes a change called Autopilot Suspension. “For maximum safety and accountability, use of Autopilot features will be suspended if improper usage is detected,” the release notes read.

    “Improper usage is when you, or another driver of your vehicle, receive five ‘Forced Autopilot Disengagements’.

    “A disengagement is when the Autopilot system disengages for the remainder of a trip after the driver receives several audio and visual warnings for inattentiveness.

    “Driver-initiated disengagements do not count as improper usage and are expected from the driver.”

    If a Tesla detects a driver is misusing the Autopilot system, the feature isn’t simply deactivated for that drive.

    “Autopilot features can only be removed per this suspension method and they will be unavailable for approximately one week,” says Tesla in the release notes.

    The company also reminds drivers not to use hand-held devices behind the wheel and to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes ahead on the road.

    The changes relate to a recall issued by Tesla in the US following an investigation into Autopilot by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

    The recall, being remedied with this latest over-the-air software update, affects 2,031,220 vehicles in the US.

    No recall has been issued in Australia. However, there’s no mention in the release notes that these Autopilot tweaks won’t apply to Australian-market Teslas.

    Tesla’s Autopilot is considered a Level 2 autonomous driver assistance technology under the levels of autonomy defined by The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

    This means Tesla’s Autopilot system can steer, brake, and accelerate by itself, but still requires the driver to keep their hands on or near the steering wheel, and be alert to the current situation.

    The driver should intervene if they believe the car is able to do something illegal or dangerous.

    To determine if the driver has proper control, Tesla measures torque applied to the vehicle’s steering wheel by the driver.

    If the car detects the driver is not holding the wheel for long periods of time, the system will prompt the driver to take over.

    Despite this, the NHTSA has found that “the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature”.

    Autopilot has been the subject of an extensive, long-running investigation by the NHTSA. It has opened more than 36 investigations into Tesla crashes, 23 of these involving fatalities.

    The recall comes shortly after a former Tesla employee claimed the US electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer’s self-driving technology is unsafe for use on public roads.

    As reported by the BBC, Lukasz Krupski said he has concerns about how AI is being used to power Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving technology.

    “I don’t think the hardware is ready and the software is ready,” said Mr Krupski.

    “It affects all of us because we are essentially experiments in public roads. So even if you don’t have a Tesla, your children still walk in the footpath.”

    Mr Krupski claims he found evidence in company data that suggested requirements for the safe operation of cars with a certain level of semi-autonomous driving technology hadn’t been followed.

    These developments also come as a US judge ruled there is “reasonable evidence” that Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other managers knew about dangerous defects with the company’s Autopilot system.

    A Florida lawsuit was brought against Tesla after a fatal crash in 2019, where the Autopilot system on a Model 3 failed to detect a truck crossing in front of the car.

    Stephen Banner was killed when his Model 3 crashed into an 18-wheeler truck that had turned onto the road ahead of him, shearing the roof off the Tesla.

    Despite this Tesla had two victories in Californian court cases earlier this year.

    Micah Lee’s Model 3 was alleged to have suddenly veered off a highway in Los Angeles while travelling 65mph (104km/h) while Autopilot was active, striking a palm tree and bursting into flames, all in a span of a few seconds.

    Additionally, Tesla won a lawsuit against Los Angeles resident Justine Hsu, who claimed her Model S swerved into a kerb with Autopilot active.

    In both cases, Tesla was cleared of any wrongdoing.

    William Stopford

    William Stopford is an automotive journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. William is a Business/Journalism graduate from the Queensland University of Technology who loves to travel, briefly lived in the US, and has a particular interest in the American car industry.

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