NHTSA orders end to sales of Autopilot Buddy, which disables Tesla safety feature
WASHINGTON -- NHTSA issued a cease-and-desist letter Tuesday to a company selling an aftermarket device that effectively disables a safety feature in Tesla Inc.'s Autopilot semiautonomous driver assist system.
"A product intended to circumvent motor vehicle safety and driver attentiveness is unacceptable," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King said in a statement. "By preventing the safety system from warning the driver to return hands to the wheel, this product disables an important safeguard, and could put customers and other road users at risk."
The device, called Autopilot Buddy, has attracted coverage from CNET and other news outlets in recent months.
Tesla's Autopilot function monitors the driver's hands on the steering wheel and warns the driver with visual and auditory alerts when hands are not detected. It has come under intense scrutiny after several crashes the past two years in which Autopilot was engaged.
Tesla says drivers are supposed to keep their hands on the wheel at all times when using the system, but many drivers often don't.
The letter directs the company, owned by Valencia, Calif.-based Dolder, Falco and Reese Partners LLC, to respond by June 29 and certify to NHTSA that all U.S. marketing, sales and distribution of the Autopilot Buddy has ended.
“We support NHTSA’s action regarding this product,” a Tesla spokesperson said via email.
AutoPilot Buddy has not been a factor in any accidents involving Tesla’s AutoPilot, according to a NHTSA official.
“We are glad NHTSA is cracking down on unsafe devices like this,” said David Friedman, who heads auto safety policy at Consumers Union. “We hope they do more and push all automakers to more responsibly implement systems that control the cars steering and speed. Right now, too many of these systems make it all too easy for drivers to tune out and we’ve already seen crashes and deaths as a result.”
Consumers Union has been outspoken about flaws in Tesla’s system that it says are dangerous and need to be corrected.
The company's website says it is only accepting international orders, but the box displays an American flag and says "Made in U.S.A." The company, which says it is not affiliated with Tesla in any way, recently released a nag-reduction device for the Model 3. The disclaimer on the company website reads:
"Warning: The Autopilot Buddy is not a safety device. Using this device irresponsibly may cause injury or death. This device is designed for closed track use, not for use on public streets."
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