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Tesla to restrict Autopilot’s best feature following recall

Tesla is limiting the use of its Autopilot driver-assistance software as part of a two-million-vehicle recall, one of the first results to come from an ongoing multiyear investigation by the nation’s top automotive safety regulator.

The recall restricts the use of Autosteer, the headlining feature of Tesla’s basic Autopilot software that allows the car to stay planted in the center of a lane even around big curves and has helped Tesla’s driver assist system still claim some operational dominance over rivals. Basic Autopilot, which comes standard in all Tesla vehicles, also includes a feature called Traffic Aware Cruise Control, which operates much like adaptive cruise control found in most modern cars.

Specifically, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says in documents released Wednesday that the way Tesla’s cars check to see if drivers are paying attention to the road while using Autosteer are “[i]nsufficient.” To fix this, Tesla will soon ship an over-the-air software update that will add “additional controls and alerts” to encourage drivers to stay alert while using Autosteer and, crucially, place “additional checks” on activating the software in places where it’s not supposed to be used.

Tesla has long said that the Autosteer feature is “intended for use on controlled-access highways with a fully attentive driver,” but its cars don’t stop drivers from activating it in other places as long as some basic conditions — like the system recognizing lane markers — are met.

Adding any kind of restriction, then, is a striking decision for Tesla, a company that almost never walks back the capabilities of its cars as its CEO Elon Musk perpetually promotes the idea of a “full self-driving” future. And it comes at a time when the company is up against a number of lawsuits involving Autopilot. (One, in California, has already gone Tesla’s way.) The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of falsely advertising the capabilities of Autopilot and the more-advanced Full Self-Driving beta software, something Tesla recently tried to claim is a First Amendment issue. The software suite is also the focus of a number of state and federal probes.

NHTSA says in the documents that it began meeting with Tesla in October about its findings regarding driver misuse of Autosteer. The agency says Tesla did not concur with the analysis, but ultimately decided on December 5 to administer the recall.

Source: Tech Crunch