In a recent live-streamed event, Tesla's CEO Elon Musk test drove a Model S equipped with the highly anticipated Full-Self Driving (FSD) Version 12 suite. However, Musk's decision to film the test drive from the driver's seat sparked criticism, as it seemingly violated California regulations.
The live-stream, conducted on the platform X (formerly Twitter), drew attention not only for the demonstration of the AI-powered FSD V12 system but also for the unconventional setting. As the Model S navigated the streets of Palo Alto with semi-autonomous capabilities, Musk and Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla's head of autopilot, shared insights about the technology.
Detractors swiftly took to X to voice their concerns about Musk's positioning behind the wheel during the demonstration. California state law dictates that the driver must maintain full control while seated in the driver's seat. However, the Palo Alto Police Department confirmed that Musk would not face fines for this infraction due to the absence of direct officer observation during the live-stream.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 26, 2023
Captain James Reifschneider of the Palo Alto PD clarified the situation, stating, “Had an officer observed the driver with the phone in their hand, they could have issued the driver an infraction ticket for violating California's hands-free law.”
During the event, Musk showcased his hands-on approach to the Model S's controls. Notably, he promptly intervened when the FSD V12 system attempted to proceed through a red light. In the event that Musk had received a ticket, the initial fine would have amounted to $20, in accordance with the regulations for first-time offenders. Subsequent offenses could result in a $50 fine, as stipulated by the California Legislative Code.
Tesla's Autopilot system has been under scrutiny, facing multiple ongoing investigations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently expressed concerns in a letter to Tesla, citing instances where the Autopilot function operated for extended periods without prompting the driver to engage with the steering wheel. The NHTSA has called for Tesla's response, warning of potential fines.
The automaker is also entangled in legal battles, with lawsuits emerging over safety concerns. Plaintiffs involved in fatal accidents involving Tesla electric vehicles in California and Florida argue that the Autopilot system either contributed to the crashes or failed to prevent them.
Adding to the company's challenges, a separate incident involving a Tesla colliding with emergency vehicles in Texas, causing injuries to four police officers, has prompted the NHTSA to intervene. The incident underscores the ongoing debate over autonomous driving technology and its implications for road safety.