Despite a Massive Recall, Elon Musk Continues to Downplay Tesla’s Self-Driving Flaws

Tesla's FSD Beta software may cause drivers to drive through in turn-only lanes and miss stop signs and yellow lights.

A 2021 Tesla Model Y equipped with FSD system.
A 2021 Tesla Model Y equipped with FSD system. Mark Leong for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Tesla’s driver-assistance software, Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta, is drawing the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) again. The electric carmaker is recalling more than 360,000 vehicles equipped with FSD Beta in the U.S. due to risks of the system causing crashes, according to a recall notice posted on the NHTSA website on Feb. 15. But Tesla C.E.O. Elon Musk still tries to downplay FSD’s safety issue despite it being the subject of multiple regulatory probes for years.

Affected vehicles in the ongoing recall include Tesla Model S and Model X of year between 2016 and 2023, Model 3 between 2017 and 2023 and Model Y between 2020 and 2023 equipped with or pending installation of FSD Beta. Unlike a traditional vehicle recall, affected owners won’t have to bring their cars to a Tesla service center. Instead, the company will deliver an over-the-air software update to cars to address the issues.

And because of this, Musk objected to the use of the term “recall” in the NHTSA’s notice. “The word ‘recall’ for an over-the-air software update is anachronistic and just flat wrong!” he tweeted Feb. 16.

Roughly 400,000 Tesla owners have FSD Beta installed in their cars, Tesla revealed in its most recent quarterly earnings report. The software has logged about 100 million miles outside of highways, and Tesla’s internal data shows an improvement in FSD’s safety statistics, Musk said during a call with analysts on Jan. 25. “We would not have released the FSD Beta if the safety statistics were not excellent,” he said on the call.

Limitations of Tesla FSD

Despite the claim in its name, Tesla Full-Self Driving Beta is classified as a level 2 autonomous driving system under the standards of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), meaning a human driver needs to stay alert at all times during a vehicle’s movement. The SAE defines six levels of driving automation ranging from level 0 (fully manual) to level 5 (fully autonomous). Musk has touted aggressive timelines for Tesla to achieve level 5 autonomous driving, but its driver-assistance systems have stuck at level 2 for years.

FSD Beta, in the market since October 2020, may not respond sufficiently to stop signs and changes in posted speed limits and may cause cars to drive through intersections in a turn-only lane or drive through a yellow light in an unlawful or unpredictable manner, according to a safety recall report on the NHTSA website.

In March 2021, Musk cautioned in a tweet he word “Beta” in the software’s name “is used to reduce complacency in usage and set expectations appropriately.”

The NHTSA, an agency responsible for establishing safety regulations for vehicles on the market, has probed Tesla’s driver assistance programs since 2016 through multiple preliminary evaluations and official investigations. The agency has identifies at least 41 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where automated features were likely to blame.

FSD Beta is available for Tesla owners for an upfront cost of $15,000 or $199 per month in the U.S. In small print on its website, Tesla states that a human driver must pay full attention while using the software. Despite a Massive Recall,  Elon Musk Continues to Downplay Tesla’s Self-Driving Flaws