Over the past few years, an online market has sprung up teaching Tesla owners how to trick their vehicle’s autopilot mode. This has led to a few accidents in recent months, pushing lawmakers to pay closer attention to Tesla’s safety standards. Be warned that tampering with your Tesla’s safety features could lead to legal problems.
By adding aftermarket products or even homemade weights to their steering wheels, Tesla owners have learned to override their cars’ autopilot mode and ride without paying attention to the road. According to some legislation, though, these products are illegal and could put drivers behind bars.
The world of self-driving cars is an ever-growing frontier that has required legislators to consider better ways to keep drivers safe. As drivers continue to hack their vehicles, lawmakers will continue to find new ways to circumvent their efforts. Here is the latest news you need to know about the Tesla autopilot hack and how it could land you in legal hot water.
What is the Tesla Autopilot Hack?
The Tesla autopilot hack is a trick you can use to override the safety features your car uses to keep your eyes on the road. If your car senses that your hand has strayed from the steering wheel for too long, it begins to issue a series of progressively more annoying alarms:
- “Apply slight turning force to steering wheel” – If you take your hand off the wheel for more than 15 seconds, you’ll see this warning flash in blue on the display.
- Beeping and a red warning – If you ignore the initial blue warning, the display will then turn red and begin issuing a loud beep.
- Faster beeping – If you continue to leave your hand off the wheel for 45 seconds, the beeping sound will grow louder and faster.
- Autopilot lockout – After a minute, your Tesla will lock you out of autopilot mode, turn on the hazard lights, and apply your car’s automatic break.
Understandably, some drivers find it annoying having to constantly apply force to their wheels just to keep their autopilots engaged. Therefore, drivers have begun installing homemade weighted devices or even a magnetic aftermarket attachment to apply pressure to their wheels in the hopes of bypassing their vehicles’ safety mechanisms.
How Realistic is the Autopilot Hack?
Tesla’s autopilot is quite easy to hack. Consumer Report, an American non-profit dedicated to safely testing consumer goods, tested out a Tesla Model Y and found that they could override the vehicle’s autopilot in a matter of minutes. All they had to do was:
- Accelerate the Model Y to a driving speed
- Initiate autopilot
- Decelerate to a complete stop using the speed control dial on the steering wheel
- Attach an insignificant amount of weight, such as a roll of tape, to the wheel
- Reaccelerate to a driving speed using the speed control dial on the steering wheel
Their driver was then able to climb into the passenger’s seat while the vehicle continued to drive and steer around the test track. While this isn’t the safest way to operate a moving vehicle, a few companies have caught on to drivers’ desires to override their vehicles’ safety features and have since developed new products to help them along the way.
One company in particular—Autopilot Buddy—has crafted a clamp-on device that successfully overrides a Tesla’s autopilot safety features while managing to look sleek and stylish at the same time. Originally marketed as a “nag reduction device”, Autopilot Buddy has since rebranded as a cellphone holder that drivers can use while operating autopilot mode. Nonetheless, their product is still designed to add weight to a Tesla steering wheel.
Events that Pushed Lawmakers to Take a Stand on Autopilot Hack
All 50 states have a version of a law barring reckless, careless, or dangerous driving. Among these laws, most state regulations define reckless driving as operating “any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. With that in mind, legislators have cast a stern gaze on the self-driving car industry over the past few years.
The first death involving a Tesla operated in autopilot mode happened back in 2016 when a Tesla failed to identify a trailer truck crossing a highway. Since then, there have been a series of suspicious deaths involving Tesla cars operated in autopilot mode. The most high-profile of these cases, though, happened in April 2021, when two men crashed into a tree while operating their Tesla in autopilot mode.
Police reported that no one was behind the wheel of the car, prompting Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, to issue a public statement about the incident. Nonetheless, investigators have continued to explore the infamous autopilot hack and even went as far as to single out Autopilot Buddy.
Legislation You Should be Aware Of
Although no new federal legislation has come about specifically banning Tesla drivers from overriding their vehicle’s autopilot safety features, that’s not to say that legislation on the state level isn’t in the works. Currently, Tesla’s autopilot is undergoing scrutiny across the US. Here are a few cases you should know about:
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – In 2018, the NHTSA issued a statement banning the sale of Autopilot Buddies within the United States. Owning or operating one has since become a federal offense.
- Arizona House Bill 2060 – Arizona House Representative John Kavanagh (R) introduced HB 2060 in late 2019, making it illegal to override safety features in an autonomous or semi-autonomous car. The bill passed with only one dissenting vote.
- Division 16.6 of the California Vehicle Code – Under California law, it is illegal to operate an autonomous vehicle in the state of California without a driver behind the wheel. California has been quick to enforce this law, citing a driver with reckless driving for operating their Tesla from their backseat.
Even internationally, Tesla has seen a crackdown on their autopilot out of fears that drivers will not follow the rules of the road. Recently, a court in Munich, Germany ruled that by naming the semi-autonomous feature an “autopilot”, Tesla has misled its consumers into thinking that they do not have to pay attention to the road while they drive.
Tesla’s Response to the Criticism
In the face of growing concern, Tesla has been quick to remind its consumers that their vehicles are not fully autonomous and should not be operated in autopilot mode unless there is a driver behind the wheel. As the Tesla support page emphasizes:
“Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous.”
When drivers initiate autopilot, they must agree to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times. Whenever a driver decides to override these safety features, they are breaking the agreement they made to drive safely. Tesla’s position remains that they are continually working to improve the safety of their vehicles are prevent accidents using self-driving features.
Is the Hack Worth the Risk?
Although hacking your Tesla’s autopilot safety features may be as easy as taping a weight to the steering wheel, it’s not worth putting yourself or other drivers at risk of an accident. Safety aside, you could also face legal prosecution depending on where you live if the police catch you overriding your vehicle’s safety features. The most important thing is to get where you are going in one piece.