Why NHTSA is watching Tesla’s release of new ‘self-driving’ software

NHTSA said Thursday it was closely watching Tesla Inc.’s release of a software version intended to allow its cars to drive themselves, saying it would not hesitate to take action to protect the public.

Tesla on Tuesday night released a beta, or test version, of what it calls a “Full Self Driving” software upgrade to an undisclosed number of “expert, careful” drivers. The release prompted online posts by excited recipients who shared video snippets of their car driving supposedly autonomously on city streets at night.

During a Tesla earnings call on Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk said the latest upgrade was planned to be widely released by the end of this year, with the system becoming more robust as it collected more data.

“NHTSA has been briefed on Tesla’s new feature, which represents an expansion of its existing driver assistance system. The agency will monitor the new technology closely and will not hesitate to take action to protect (the) public against unreasonable risks to safety,” the safety regulator said in a statement.

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