- Tesla is recalling beta software from more than 53,000 cars that includes a setting that lets cars roll past stop signs.
- The NHTSA says the feature "can increase the risk of a crash."
- CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly touted Tesla as the carmaker of the future, but currently its vehicles are limited to driver-assistance features, meaning motorists must remain attentive with hands on the wheel.
Tesla will recall software from 53,822 of its Model S, X, 3 and Y vehicles in the U.S. to eliminate a feature that let cars automatically roll past stop signs, according to records published Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
These cars feature a relatively new version of the company's so-called Full Self-Driving Beta (or FSD Beta) software.
Newer versions of FSD Beta (2020.40.4.10 or later), which are subject to the recall, give drivers a "rolling stop" function that lets their cars automatically "roll through an all-way stop intersection without first coming to a stop," the NHTSA notices said, which "can increase the risk of a crash."
Tesla wrote in its communications to NHTSA, "As of January 27, 2022, Tesla is not aware of any warranty claims, field reports, crashes, injuries or fatalities related to this condition."
The No. 1 electric vehicle maker will remove these features through a free over-the-air software update, meaning customers don't have to take the cars to a store or service center to address the problem.
The FSD Beta program gives Tesla drivers early access to new features that aren't completely debugged yet, including "autosteer on city streets," which let drivers automatically navigate around complex and crowded urban environments without moving the steering wheel with their own hands. Despite the name, FSD Beta does not make Tesla vehicles autonomous.
Tesla owners who buy the company's $12,000 premium driver assistance system, or subscribe to it for $199 a month, can join the FSD Beta program. They need to maintain a high-driving safety score, as determined by Tesla software, before gaining access. The company does not require FSD Beta drivers to have any safety training or professional certifications to use the unfinished features on public roads in the U.S.
On Jan. 26, in its most recent earnings update, Tesla revealed that it has expanded this controversial testing program to around 60,000 vehicles in the country.
Meanwhile, government agencies are increasing scrutiny of the Telsa program. For example, NHTSA is investigating whether FSD Beta may be in part or fully to blame for a Model Y collision that occurred in Brea, Calif., in November 2021, and the California DMV is reviewing the company's use of the term "Full Self-Driving" to describe and sell it to customers.
On the recent earnings call, CEO Elon Musk said, "Over time, we think Full Self-Driving will become the most important source of profitability for Tesla."
"My personal guess," he added, "is that we'll achieve Full Self-Driving this year at a safety level significantly greater than a person. So the cars in the fleet essentially becoming self-driving via software update, I think, might end up being the biggest increase in asset value of any asset class in history. We shall see."
Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus in robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, doubts that timing, though. "If this was going to happen in three years, let alone this year, they'd have to have driverless cars going around today picking people up in a demo. There's not even a demo," Brooks said.
Musk has been promising shareholders and Tesla fans an autonomous vehicle since at least 2016, but currently its vehicles are limited to driver-assistance features, meaning motorists must remain attentive with hands on the wheel.
The company did not respond to a request for comment on the recall, or the 6,178 vehicles referenced in its fourth-quarter shareholder deck that were not accounted for in the notice that Tesla filed to NHTSA on Jan. 27.
Tesla shares were unbowed by news of the software recall, however; they closed Tuesday roughly flat at $931.25.