The federal government is stepping in to end the use of an aftermarket product designed to let Tesla owners skirt a safety feature from the electric automaker’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a cease and desist letter Tuesday to a California company known as Dolder, Falco and Reese Partners LLC that is selling the Autopilot Buddy product.
The Autopilot Buddy product, which is marketed with the catchy slogan “Tesla Autopilot Nag Reduction Device,” is a magnetic piece of plastic that disables the feature in Tesla vehicles that monitors the driver’s hands on the steering wheel and warns the driver when hands are not detected. Aftermarket devices, such as Autopilot Buddy, are motor vehicle equipment regulated by NHTSA.
Autopilot Buddy works on the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3.
“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.”
Tesla’s Autopilot is not a fully autonomous driving system. Instead, the advanced assistance system includes a number of features such as traffic-aware cruise control (TACC) and its branded Autosteer, which uses information from cameras, radar and the ultrasonic sensors to detect lane markings as well as the presence of vehicles and objects. When Autopilot and the Autosteer feature are activated, the system maintains the speed of the Tesla while keeping a distance from the vehicle in front of it, keeps it in its lane and changes lanes.
However, it also requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, apparently a rule so annoying that owners have found all sorts of interesting ways to trick the system. When drivers don’t keep their hands on the wheel, the system is supposed to give visual and audible warnings. If the driver continues to ignore it, Autopilot shuts off.
The letter directs the company to respond by June 29, 2018, and to certify to NHTSA that all U.S. marketing, sales and distribution of the Autopilot Buddy has ended.
The company appears to have already adjusted to the feds. The company posted on its website that it is currently only taking international orders. “We are not taking orders inside the U.S.A. at this time,” the website reads. “We are hopeful to resolve this by as quickly as possible.”