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Tesla may disable autopilot for drivers who don't follow the rules

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Michael Probst/AP/File

(Read caption) a Tesla Model S is on display on the first press day of the Frankfurt Auto Show IAA in Frankfurt, Germany. Tesla Motors is working on modifications to its Autopilot system.

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Some people can't resist putting themselves in danger. Those folks have given us some amazing things, like bungee-jumping and scuba diving. On the other hand, they're also responsible for Russian roulette and planking.  

When Tesla rolled out its semi-self-driving Autopilot software last fall, we saw owners on both ends of the spectrum. Some used the technology responsibly; others, not so much. Now comes word that the automaker may be cracking down on the latter group's use of Autopilot by temporarily disabling the feature.

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Autopilot angst

The past couple of months haven't been kind to Autopilot. The software has been linked to a death in Florida and several accidents around the globe--including one in China, where it appears that Tesla sales personnel and the company's Chinese-language website had been describing Autopilot as fully autonomous.

The headlines have gotten so heated that CEO Elon Musk was invited to testify before a U.S. Senate committee. He also felt compelled to devote a sizable chunk of his otherwise forward-facing "Master Plan Part Deux" to defending the still-in-beta technology.

Throughout, Musk and others have done everything they could to clarify that Tesla Autopilot is not a self-driving system and that even when it's engaged, owners are instructed to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

Autopilot contains a safety mechanism to ensure motorists do just that. If drivers fail to maintain contact with the steering wheel, Autopilot uses visible and audible warnings to get their attention. If they don't respond, Autopilot begins slowing the vehicle and dialing down the volume on the car's stereo.

Idiot-proofing

But those sorts of warnings aren't enough for some people. And so, the upcoming v8.0 update of Autopilot may prevent drivers who ignore the software's warnings from re-engaging it--at least temporarily.

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If Autopilot turns itself off because a driver has ignored warning cues, she may not be able to turn it on again until the car is stopped and put in park. In such cases, the vehicle's adaptive cruise control (which Tesla calls traffic-aware cruise control) will remain functional, but the self-steering feature won't.

There's no word yet on when Autopilot 8.0 will begin rolling out to Tesla owners, but it's rumored to be undergoing final tests now. 


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