But is the penalty too lenient for the crime?
Tesla is cracking down on inattentive drivers using Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta by soft-banning them for "approximately two weeks" if the car deems they aren't paying attention behind the wheel of their Model S, 3, X, or Y. However, it appears the penalty is now softer than what it once was, bringing into question whether Tesla's actions are for the safety of its users or not.
FSD Beta has come under fire on many occasions, with many criticizing Musk for using Tesla owners as test dummies for the Level 2+ autonomous driving functionality. While FSD Beta is now in effect for all North American customers, this wasn't always the case, as Tesla vetted applicants based on their driving habits to ensure they were responsible drivers who would still pay attention to their vehicles when the system was active.
Those that were caught being inattentive would previously have their FSD Beta subscription suspended for an unspecified period of time, but in Tesla's latest software update, this penalty appears to have been reduced.
Per Not A Tesla App, the 2022.44.30.5 software update's release notes contain a relatively detailed description of what the automaker deems to be inattentiveness and the terms under which a user will have the service suspended:
"Full Self-Driving (Beta) Suspension - For maximum safety and accountability, use of Full Self-Driving (Beta) will be suspended if improper usage is detected. Improper usage is when you, or another driver of your vehicle, receive five 'Forced Autopilot Disengagements.' A disengagement is when the Autopilot system disengages for the remainder of a trip after the driver receives several audio and visual warnings for inattentiveness. Driver-initiated disengagements do not count as improper usage and are expected from the driver. Keep your hands on the wheel and remain attentive at all times. Use of any hand-held devices while using Autopilot is not allowed.
The FSD Beta feature can only be removed per this suspension method and it will be unavailable for approximately two weeks."
While on the surface, it seems like Tesla is providing punishment or repercussions for irresponsible users' actions, this is a decreased sentence from the previous repercussions. Previously, users would have their vehicles removed from the Beta pool until such time as Tesla decided to re-enter them, with many reporting six months of inactivity before they were allowed to resume Beta testing.
By reducing the sentence, the brand may not be effectively dissuading users from misbehaving, but is perhaps hoping the more cars testing out the software it has, the quicker it can progress from Level 2+ to Level 3 autonomy.
Level 2+ systems still require human attention and intervention, such as when a Tesla decides to hunt down errant bollards, for example, and needs to be stopped. Level 3 systems, however, do not require human intervention on pre-determined routes.
The core difference between Level 2+ and Level 3 is in who takes responsibility. With Level 2+ and below systems, the driver is still ultimately responsible for any incidents, as they are required by law to be concentrating on their surroundings and what the car is doing. Level 3 systems, by contrast, remove that responsibility from the driver, placing it on the OEM. That's why, thus far, no one has successfully brought a Level 3 system to market in the USA.
That's about to change, as Mercedes has received regulatory approval for Drive Pilot in the state of Nevada and is anticipating the same in California this year, paving the way for Level 3 autonomy on American highways. Should anything go wrong when Mercedes Drive Pilot is activated, Mercedes will foot the blame and accept legal liability, but drivers need to be awake and ready to resume control of the car should it detect an unsafe scenario it cannot navigate.
Meanwhile, Tesla has been banned from using the Full Self-Driving terminology in California as it has been deemed misleading.