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NHTSA bans sale of Autopilot 'nag reduction' device

by Justin King

Autopilot Buddy simply adds weight to one side of the steering

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a cease-and-desist letter to a company that sells a Tesla Autopilot "nag reduction device."

The Autopilot Buddy is simply a pair of weights that attach to one side of the steering wheel, tricking Tesla's torque sensor into thinking a human's hand is on the wheel. Drivers consequently avoid the visual and audible warnings if their hands are actually not on the wheel.

"A product intended to circumvent motor vehicle safety and driver attentiveness is unacceptable," says NHTSA deputy administrator Heidi King. "By preventing the safety system from warning the driver to return their hands to the wheel, this product disables an important safeguard, and could put customers and other road users at risk."

The makers of the Autopilot Buddy admit the device "restricts built-in safety features" but claim it is for "track use only." It is now only available for international buyers, with a seemingly steep price tag of $200.

Some safety advocates have alleged Tesla's Autopilot system is misleading and does not go far enough to prevent drivers from ignoring the disclaimers and hands-on warnings.

The company recently updated its software to repeat the 'nagging' warnings more often. 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. As semi-autonomous systems become more capable, the tendency for some drivers to ignore warnings and take more risks will likely increase.

Sigh. This is crux of matter: can't make system too annoying or people won't use it, negatively affecting safety, but also can't allow people to get too complacent or safety again suffers. Latest update should have a positive effect on latter issue especially.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 10, 2018