Courtesy of teslamotors/Instagram
Federal regulators have ordered Tesla to provide data on a hidden Autopilot setting dubbed “Elon Mode,” which allows drivers to use Autopilot for extended periods without being prompted to engage the steering wheel.
The hidden setting was reported by a Tesla hacker known online as @greentheonly. The hacker claimed to have enabled the feature and posted a video of it in use, though they did not share how to activate it.
In a letter sent to Tesla last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s acting chief counsel, John Donaldson, expressed the agency’s “concern” that the feature could lead drivers to pay less attention to the road while using Autopilot.
“Recently, NHTSA became aware that Tesla has introduced an Autopilot configuration that, when enabled, allows drivers using Autopilot to operate their vehicles for extended periods without Autopilot prompting the driver to apply torque to the steering wheel. NHTSA is concerned that this feature was introduced to consumer vehicles and, now that the existence of this feature is known to the public, more drivers may attempt to activate it,” Donaldson wrote.
“The resulting relaxation of controls designed to ensure that the driver remain engaged in the dynamic driving task could lead to greater driver inattention and failure of the driver to properly supervise Autopilot,” Donaldson wrote.
The letter was publicly posted to the agency’s website this week.
“Public and private partnerships are core to American innovation. Safety, security, and creating unique customer experiences are inherent in the exchange of value,” said artificial intelligence adviser and tech executive Marva Bailer, author of “Be Unexpected: Resetting Routines to Revolutionize the Future of Work.”
“Government standards and reporting are standard factors for manufacturing companies. The price of first to market. The price of creation. The price of success,” Bailer said.
The NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation had opened a preliminary investigation into Autopilot in 2021, and upgraded the investigation in 2022 to assess the system’s ability to “monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation.”
Tesla’s website warns drivers that “it is your responsibility to stay alert, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times and maintain control of your car” while using Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) Capability.
CEO Elon Musk recently posted a livestream on X, formerly Twitter, which he also owns, showing a demonstration of an unreleased version of the FSD software, and appeared at times to not be holding the steering wheel.
TMX contributed to this article.