tesla autopilot

NHTSA’s Tesla Autopilot “Elon Mode” concerns seem rooted in a misunderstanding (Opinion)

Credit: Tesla

Recent reports indicate that Tesla is currently in the crosshairs of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which sent a special order to the electric vehicle maker about a configuration of Autopilot that enables the system to operate without its trademark nags. Autopilot nags prompt drivers to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the steering wheel. 

“Recently, NHTSA became aware that 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. 

“NHTSA is concerned that this feature was introduced to consumer vehicles and, now that the existence of this feature is known to the public, more drivers may attempt to activate it. The resulting relaxation of controls designed to ensure that the driver remain engaged in the dynamic driving task could lead to greater driver inattention and failure of the driver to properly supervise Autopilot,” the NHTSA’s letter to Tesla read. 

Considering the NHTSA’s statements in its special order to Tesla, it would appear that the agency has concerns about Autopilot’s infamous “Elon Mode,” which was shared online by noted Tesla hacker @greentheonly back in June. With “Elon Mode” active, the hacker stated that he was able to use Autopilot without the system’s nags. This allowed him to drive hands-free for extended periods of time. 

The NHTSA’s concerns about such an Autopilot are understandable, and it is evident that the agency is focused on the safety of drivers. However, it is pertinent to point out that “Elon Mode” was never released openly to consumers at all. It is an Autopilot setting that is intended to be used internally by Tesla alone, not a simple feature that could be toggled on and off by regular drivers. Accessing and activating “Elon Mode” alone involved a Tesla hacker, after all,

With this in mind, it would appear that the NHTSA’s concerns about Autopilot’s “nag-free” setting are rooted in a misunderstanding. 

Of course, there are Tesla drivers that use creative means to avoid Autopilot’s nags. Some, including a number of Tesla critics, have been observed to use defeat devices as a way to fool Autopilot into thinking that the driver is paying attention to the road. One could argue, however, that such instances are not really Tesla’s fault, as the drivers are essentially cheating the system to avoid Autopilot’s nags. They are not using “Elon Mode” at all. 

Tesla hacker @greentheonly himself has responded to news of the NHTSA’s order. In a post on X, the noted Tesla hacker stated that he was quite surprised at the amount of media coverage that “Elon Mode” received all of a sudden. Settings that are intended for Tesla’s internal use, after all, have been around for some time now. 

The NHTSA’s special order to Tesla can be viewed below.

INLM-EA22002-91174P by Simon Alvarez on Scribd

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NHTSA’s Tesla Autopilot “Elon Mode” concerns seem rooted in a misunderstanding (Opinion)
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