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.

2 minute read

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

Aerial view of snowy single-family homes in suburban Long Island, New York

New York Governor Advances Housing Plan Amid Stiff Suburban Opposition

Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious proposal to create more housing has once again run into a brick wall of opposition in New York’s enormous suburbs, especially on Long Island. This year, however, the wall may have some cracks.

March 20, 2023 - Mark H. McNulty

Empty parking garage at night with yellow lines marking spots and fluorescent lighting

Rethinking the Role of Parking in the American City

In cities big and small, the tide is turning against sprawling parking lots, car-centric development, and minimum parking mandates.

March 16, 2023 - The New York Times

A futuristic version of New York City, with plants growing neatly on top of modern skycrapers.

Friday Eye Candy: 20 AI-Generated Cityscapes

AI-generated images are creating new landscapes and cityscapes, capable of inspiring awe or fear.

March 17, 2023 - Chris Steins via Medium

A mountain range at sunset appears in the background of this photo, with cacti in the foreground.

Biden Designates a New National Monument in West Texas

The Castner Range National Monument in West Texas is the second of two new national monuments announced by President Joe Biden this week.

1 hour ago - The White House

View of street in Chinatown, San Francisco with cars parked along curb and red Chinese lanterns hanging above street

Study: Autonomous Cars Won’t Solve the Parking Problem

In hyper-dense cities where incentives to reduce car use and eliminate parking are already high, mass adoption of AVs won’t significantly reduce parking demand.

3 hours ago - Streetsblog USA

A group of wetsuit-clad swimmers gathers to talk in shallow water near the shore of the San Francisco Bay.

Proposed Pool Would Make an Olympic-Sized Play Area in the San Francisco Bay

The San Francisco Bay is usually an undesirable place to swim, except for a hearty few. A development proposal seeking assistance at the state level would add a pool to the Bay’s waters to make the idea of going for a swim more appealing.

March 24 - The Mercury News

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

HUD’s 2023 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.