Tesla's 'Aggressive' Autonomous Mode Facilitates Lawbreaking

Some Tesla autonomous modes direct the vehicle to engage in dangerous and illegal behaviors, prompting calls for increased regulation of autonomous vehicle tech.

January 19, 2022, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Tinxi / Shutterstock

According to an article by Streetsblog's Kea Wilson, Tesla is equipping its vehicles with a feature that lets drivers choose "how aggressively the vehicle applies many of its automated safety features on U.S. roads," essentially allowing the car to break common traffic laws under its "assertive" driving mode.

The rollout went largely unnoticed by street safety advocates until a Jan. 9 article in The Verge, when journalist Emma Roth revealed that putting a Tesla in 'assertive' mode will effectively direct the car to tailgate other motorists, perform unsafe passing maneuvers, and roll through certain stops ('average' mode isn’t much safer). All those behaviors are illegal in most U.S. states, and experts say there’s no reason why Tesla shouldn’t be required to program its vehicles to follow the local rules of the road, even when drivers travel between jurisdictions with varying safety standards.

The revelation concerns road safety advocates who say the company is endangering riders and pedestrians by allowing the cars to roll through stops and red lights. Wilson attributes this in large part to the fact that "by and large, U.S. law tends to favor penalizing individual drivers for breaking the law, rather than penalizing car manufacturers whose vehicle designs make breaking those laws easy," pointing to the lack of regulations for vehicles that can travel at speeds far beyond any legal speed limits

Meanwhile, a complicated regulatory landscape puts autonomous vehicle technology in a challenging gray area, with some states attempting to pass laws that hold carmakers responsible for safety failures, while others are supporting more autonomous vehicle testing on their streets with statutes that shield manufacturers from liability.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022 in Streetsblog USA

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