Jan 11, 2022 - Economy

Your Tesla could drive like a jerk

Illustration of a man behind a steering wheel with Tesla logos for eyes.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tesla's latest assisted-driving software lets car owners decide how aggressively they want their car to behave in traffic — even to the point of bending rules.

What's happening: The latest release of Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" (FSD) beta software lets owners choose among three driving profiles — Chill, Average or Assertive — that dictate how the car will behave in different scenarios, The Verge reports.

Why it matters: Assertive Teslas are programmed to allow rolling stops, follow other cars more closely and swap lanes more frequently — behaviors that tend to be more dangerous no matter who's driving.

  • The vehicle will also "not exit passing lanes" — meaning it'll just cruise in the left lane even though that's prohibited on most highways.

Critics say it's another example of Tesla's "irresponsible" approach to automated driving.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a series of crashes involving Tesla's Autopilot feature.
  • In December, Tesla agreed to modify its cars' software to prevent drivers from playing video games on the dashboard screen while the vehicle is in motion, after a New York Times report prompted a federal safety investigation.
  • Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

The big picture: Drivers have different personalities, and automated driving systems do too.

  • All self-driving technology companies are wrestling with how to make their cars blend into local traffic patterns, without being overly cautious or aggressive.
  • Argo AI, for instance, aims to perfect what it calls "naturalistic driving" — the combination of safe, defensive and "socially appropriate driving."
  • Tesla's range of driver profiles appears to offer a choice of what's socially appropriate.

The bottom line: Despite its name, Tesla's FSD system is not fully autonomous, and Teslas cannot drive themselves. Drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road — whether they're feeling chill or assertive.

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