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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.

Go deeper

Jan 12, 2022 - Economy & Business

A new reality check on self-driving cars

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Some carmakers and tech companies say they're preparing to deliver self-driving cars to consumers within just a few years, a fresh promise that makes it seem like 2016 again. But beware the hype.

Why it matters: Your car might be capable of driving itself in the not-too-distant future, but only under certain conditions, like favorable weather or within certain geographic limits. And the timetable is squishy at best.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations were "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand, which were later lifted.