NHTSA issues cease and desist for Tesla Autopilot Buddy

Cornelia Mascio
Giugno 22, 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a cease and desist letter Tuesday to a California company known as Dolder, Falco and Reese Partners LLC that is selling the Autopilot Buddy product.

NHTSA has directed the company to respond by June 29 certifying that all USA marketing, sales, and distribution of the product have stopped. Autopilot Buddy offered a workaround to the steering wheel sensors that Tesla uses to ensure that drivers are still paying attention and ready to take over, should the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance need to disengage unexpectedly.

Despite those promises, the NHTSA found the product "is meant to circumvent motor vehicle safety and driver attentiveness", NHTSA deputy administrator Heidi King said. If the system does not detect that the driver's hands are on the wheels, warning tones sound and messages appear in the gauge cluster or, in the Model 3, on the large center screen.

Bypassing or disabling safety features is nothing new, but there's a world of difference between not wearing a seatbelt and using a device that means you can keep your hands off the wheel for an extended period of time. That's apparently enough to keep Tesla's Autopilot system working even if the driver's hands are not on the steering wheel at all. In the case of the Tesla, the system monitors steering wheel movements to assess whether the driver is engaged. Aftermarket devices, such as Autopilot Buddy, are motor vehicle equipment regulated by NHTSA. It's a $199 magnetic, plastic gadget that clasps around the wheel and makes Autopilot thinks the driver's hands are in the correct spot. CEO Elon Musk argues Autopilot marketing is not misleading, however, and the attention-grabbing accidents have involved drivers who "get too used to it" and begin to think they know more about Autopilot's capabilities than they actually do.

Despite the Autopilot Buddy website's assertion that the hands-off warnings are an impediment to owners, it also maintains a disclaimer saying: "This is not meant to be a hands-off device, your hands must remain on the wheel as directed by Tesla's terms of "Autosteer" user agreement". The company's website now says it will not ship the device to addresses within the United States. Today, NHTSA issued the company behind Autopilot Buddy a formal cease and desist and issued a consumer advisory deeming the product unsafe. Autopilot Buddy has until June 29 to respond.

A Tesla spokesman said the company supports NHTSA's action to force the company to end sales of the device.

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