Tesla’s “Request Full Self-Driving Beta” button is here, and so is the Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). Over the weekend, Tesla owners with qualified vehicles and who purchased the company’s Full Self-Drivings suite were able to press a button that would allow them to apply for a slot in the company’s soon-to-be-expanded FSD Beta program. The company also launched its Safety Score system as a way to help determine which of its customers are safe drivers.
True to form, it did not take long before Tesla critics pounced on the “Request FSD Beta” button and the company’s “Safety Score” system. Pretty soon, even a US Senator joined the fray in condemning the FSD Beta program. While this is not a surprise and almost expected considering Tesla’s history, it must be said that this time, the pearl-clutching and outrage from the company’s critics are getting quite ridiculous.
To get proper context on the FSD Beta expansion, one must know how Tesla started the program in the first place. The FSD Beta program was launched in October 2020, and for nearly a year, it was limited to just about 2,000 drivers. These drivers have accumulated valuable real-world data over the past 11 months, and none were involved in an accident. This effectively did two things: one; it proved that the FSD Beta program is feasible, and two; it set a very high bar for the rest of the FSD Beta rollout.
Expanding the FSD Beta program requires tons of caution. Thus, it was no surprise that the company launched a Safety Rating system designed to evaluate the driving behavior of Tesla owners. This effectively gave the company a rather objective way to evaluate which drivers could participate in the FSD Beta program expansion. It should also be noted that owners who qualify for the program would not be using a consumer release version of the Full Self-Driving suite. They would simply be part of the FSD Beta test program.
This fact seems to have escaped some of the media coverage about the FSD Beta program expansion. Bloomberg, for one, ran with a headline that read “Tesla Starts Judging Owners It Charged $10,000 for Self-Driving.” This premise is quite incorrect as the $10,000 Full Self Driving suite being sold by Tesla is a consumer release product, not the advanced driver-assist system that would be used by owners who qualify for the FSD Beta program. Despite this, sentiments opposing the program, as well as the Safety Score system, have been quite evident among the company’s critics.
Such a misinformed take was evident in a Twitter post shared by US Senator Richard Blumenthal, who noted that Tesla was “putting untrained drivers on public roads as testers for their misleadingly-named, unproven system.” The Senator added that the FSD Beta strategy is a “seeming recipe for disaster” as the company is playing “Russian Roulette for unsuspecting drivers & the public.” Interestingly enough, the politician also cited a tweet from CNBC, which included an article that is, in many ways, slanted against the EV maker.
Wrong takes on hot topics are typically due to outdated information, and in the case of US Senator Blumenthal, this might be the case. Back in 2018, the politician rode in a Model 3 with Consumer Reports Head of Auto Testing Jake Fisher, who was operating a version of Tesla’s Autopilot that is now incredibly outdated. During the drive, Fisher was quick to point out what capabilities Autopilot was lacking, all while operating the system without his hands on the wheel.
Consumer Reports is hardly a Tesla authority considering that the magazine, which prides itself on consumer advocacy, quite literally featured a thorough walkthrough on how to abuse Tesla’s Autopilot system back in April using defeat devices and a variety of tricks. If Blumenthal is basing his take on Tesla on CNBC‘s recent reporting — which was slanted negatively against the EV maker — and his past experiences with Consumer Reports — which operates Autopilot irresponsibly — then it is no wonder that he is skeptical about the FSD Beta test expansion.
The Irony of it All
The most ironic thing about the pearl-clutching and outrage among Tesla critics today is the fact that the “Request FSD Beta” button essentially does nothing for now. It does not make owners who press the button automatic FSD Beta testers. They’d have to have great Safety Scores for that. And due to the presence of Safety Scores, Tesla owners who wish to participate in the FSD Beta program are now driving safer than ever before. The company effectively incentivized safe driving this weekend, and somehow, it was still met with a ton of negativity.
Also ironic is the fact that statistics are on Tesla’s side. Take the well-publicized NHTSA investigation on Autopilot crashing into stationary emergency vehicles, for example. When the probe was launched, the news was extensively covered with headlines like CNN‘s “Tesla is under investigation because its cars can’t stop hitting emergency vehicles.” But while such headlines are compelling, the fact is that the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report notes that there are about 8,000 stationary emergency vehicle crash injuries per year. Tesla had nine crash injuries with stationary first responder vehicles in the last 12 months, and some of those involved drivers who were not paying attention to the road.
The NHTSA notes that there are about 2,740,000 crash injuries in the United States per year, and there’s hardly any outrage for the human lives included in this grim statistic. Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system, which generally drives very conservatively, could effectively reduce this number by a notable margin. It is then quite disappointing to see the narrative being formed around the expansion of the FSD Beta program, especially considering that the advanced driver-assist system would only be released for owners who generally drive safely.
Valid Tesla Criticism
Interestingly enough, there are actual valid angles of criticism for Tesla’s FSD Beta rollout. The program for now is vastly focused on the United States, but the company sells the FSD suite to owners worldwide. It would then be beneficial to Tesla owners if the program’s expansion is expedited to areas such as Canada and Europe, to name a few. FSD, after all, is intended to be a universal system that should be capable of operating anywhere. Following this logic, FSD Beta must be tested on a wider set of areas as well — as soon as possible.
There are also Tesla owners who purchased the Full Self-Driving suite years ago on vehicles that are still equipped with MCU1 units. Some of these vehicles are already coming out of warranty, and their owners are yet to enjoy any FSD features since most of the advanced driver-assist system’s functions today require an MCU2 unit. Considering that Tesla owners were promised that their cars would be equipped with the hardware necessary for Full Self-Driving with an FSD suite purchase, it would only be right for Tesla to expedite MCU1 to MCU2 retrofits for owners with vehicles that were produced from March 2018 or earlier.
But misrepresenting the FSD Beta program expansion and criticizing the Safety Score system, that’s a far harder sell.
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