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Tesla is under pressure from NHTSA over Full Self-Driving Beta NDA and ‘stealth recall’

The NHTSA is upping the pressure on Tesla as the regulator asked for more information about the non-disclosure agreement it made Full Self-Driving Beta testers agree to.

The government is also questioning Tesla about what it believes to be a potential “stealth recall” of Autopilot.

Over the last few weeks, we have been reporting on Tesla’s NDA for Full Self-Driving Beta early access testers after Vice got their hands on it. Now the NHTSA has heard about it and it has some concerns.

They wrote in a letter to Tesla today:

“Recently, NHTSA has become aware of reports that participants in Tesla’s FSD early access beta release program have non-disclosure agreements that allegedly limit the participants from sharing information about FSD that portrays the feature negatively, or from speaking with certain people about FSD. Given that NHTSA relies on reports from consumers as an important source of information in evaluating potential safety defects, any agreement that may prevent or dissuade participants in the early access beta release program from reporting safety concerns to NHTSA is unacceptable. Moreover, even limitations on sharing certain information publicly adversely impacts NHTSA’s ability to obtain information relevant to safety.”

The NHTSA is asking Tesla to respond to a request for information about the situation.

Here’s the full letter sent to Tesla:

[scribd id=532155698 key=key-e19qu546MDhW5WsIep68 mode=scroll]

As we reported last week, Elon Musk said that Tesla shouldn’t have an NDA for its Full Self-Driving Beta.

Vice never released a full copy of the NDA, but in the excerpts that they posted, Tesla never explicitly said anything about sharing information to regulatory bodies.

However, the language in the NDA can be interpreted as encouraging self-censorship for content that can make Tesla look bad.

At the same time, the NHTSA also sent another letter to Tesla to follow up about its ongoing investigation of crashes involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot and emergency vehicles.

They are concerned about an update that Tesla released last month regarding Autopilot’s interaction with emergency vehicles, which they could see as a “stealth recall”.

They wrote in the letter:

“This letter follows up recent discussions between our organizations and requests additional information from Tesla with respect to two recent actions taken by your company. Tesla’s late September 2021 distribution of functionality to certain Tesla vehicle models intended to improve detection of emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions, and Tesla’s early October 2021 release of the Full Self-Driving Beta Request Menu option.”

They are referring to Tesla’s 2021.24.12 software update, which added the capacity for Autopilot to now detect and slow down for emergency vehicles’ lights at night.

A concerning part of the update is that it wasn’t in the release notes of the update, but it was in the updated owner’s manual for Model 3 and Model Y.

Electrek’s Take

For the first concern, it looks like Tesla releasing the full NDA would clear this up and show whether or not it discouraged sharing information with regulators in any way.

As for the second concern, Tesla doesn’t like to make a “recall” for something that can be fixed with a software update.

However, in this case, it looks like the NHTSA is taking issues with reason since they are in the middle of investigating this very situation that the update addressed.

To me, it looks like Tesla should have communicated this update with the NHTSA in the first place knowing that they were investigating the situation.

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