Will Tesla’s Safety Score System Lead to Safer Driving? 

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In late September 2021, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to social media to announce an update for the brand’s electric car software. The update grants access to the company’s Full Self-Driving Beta (FSD) system for individuals who qualify using a new Safety ScoreBeta feature. 

Safety ScoreBeta evaluates users’ driving habits, and those who earn a perfect score qualify for the self-driving beta program, one that enables Tesla vehicles to drive autonomously, with some level of human supervision. 

And although a safety scoring system initially seems like an easy decision, drivers are finding ways to outsmart the Safety ScoreBeta system and earn a perfect score by erasing or resetting the data. That means potentially unsafe drivers can still earn perfect safety scores and gain access to self-driving vehicles they may not be responsible enough to operate. 

What Is Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta?

Tesla offers various driver assistance features available as standard options or available for purchase after delivery. Full Self-Driving Capability is one of these features. It offers a range of driver-assist features including automatic stopping at stop signs and red lights and navigating lane changes and on and off-ramps. Tesla adds the disclaimer that Full Self-Driving features require active driver supervision. 

How Does the Safety Score System Work?

Tesla’s Safety ScoreBeta is the first version of the company’s Safety Score system used to evaluate drivers’ behavior based on five key metrics: 

  • Aggressive turning: Right and left acceleration in excess of 0.4 g, equivalent to an increase in speed to the left or right greater than 8.9 miles per hour. 
  • Forced autopilot disengagement: Autopilot automatically disengages after the driver receives three audio or visual warnings. 
  • Forward collision warnings: Visual and audible cues to alert the driver of an impending frontal collision with an object; events are recorded in 1,000-mile increments. 
  • Hard braking: Reductions in speed greater than 6.7 miles per hour when Autopilot is not engaged. 
  • Unsafe following: When the vehicle’s headway or number of seconds required to stop if the vehicle in front comes to a sudden stop is too little based on the speed traveling. 

This data is recorded through the vehicle’s onboard Autopilot software and built-in sensors. From there, driver behavior records are collected and converted into a Safety Score based on a scale of 1 to 100 using a specific mathematical formula. A good Safety Score can qualify owners for access to the most recent version of Tesla’s FSD software. 

What Are Drivers Doing to Override the Safety Score Feature?

Within hours of Tesla’s introduction of Safety ScoreBeta, some owners took to social media to share techniques they used to avoid actions that lower their safety score. Some of these unsafe driving behaviors include accelerating through yellow lights and rolling through stop signs to avoid alerts for hard braking. 

In fact, in since-deleted videos and posts on YouTube and Reddit, owners offered instructions to help drivers earn a perfect Safety Score, even if their driving habits are less than impeccable. They suggested holding down two specific controls simultaneously to reset the vehicle’s Media Control Unit, wiping out all previously stored data. 

Drivers also learned they can make up for bad driving behavior by driving safely for a period to achieve a high Safety Score. Another owner found that opting out of the FSD Beta system for a brief period before turning the vehicle off, restarting it, and rejoining the program resets all previously stored data. 

Other Problems with Driver Safety Scores

Beyond the steps Tesla owners are taking to circumvent the Safety Score feature and prevent adverse entries on their driving record, the system has inherent limitations.  

For example, the Unsafe Following feature only measures when the vehicle is moving at least 50 miles per hour. That means tailgating events at lower speeds are not being calculated into drivers’ Safety Scores. Also, although aggressive turning, hard braking, and other unsafe driving behaviors are possible when Autopilot is engaged, they are not recorded or factored into Safety Scores. 

While that is good news for drivers aiming for a perfect score, it also means unsafe and even illegal driving habits may be overlooked. That is concerning, considering those same risky drivers may have access to vehicles that essentially drive themselves. Although driver supervision is technically required for Full Self-Driving, there are no guarantees the driver is alert, attentive, and ready to react in an emergency. 

Driver safety metrics are important and Safety ScoreBeta makes good sense in theory. However, until Tesla can stop owners from outsmarting the system, safety scores will not accurately reflect a driver’s ability to responsibly operate a moving vehicle. 

Driver-Assist Technology Is Available in Most New Vehicles

Tesla is not the only automaker working to balance the desire for innovative self-driving features with traffic safety. Every year, vehicles are manufactured with more automated driving features. As of May 2018, AAA reports that 92.7 percent of new passenger vehicles in the United States were equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS.) That percentage is likely much higher for 2022 models. 

The most common ADAS features found in newer vehicles are: 

  • Blind spot warnings 
  • Surround camera view 
  • Lane keeping assistance 
  • Adaptive cruise control 

These systems are intended for use only with human supervision. However, are drivers becoming too dependent on technology to prevent car accidents, and what happens when these systems malfunction? Will motorists ever be ready to share the road with fully autonomous vehicles? 

Self-Driving Vehicles and Car Accidents

As self-driving cars are gradually introduced to roadways across the United States in the years ahead, motorists can anticipate a transition period in which autonomous vehicles and standard driven cars share the road. 

Researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute published a report on the limitations and risks of self-driving cars sharing the road with conventional vehicles.  They came to a few conclusions. 

First, researchers said the expectation of zero fatalities with self-driving vehicles is not realistic. Neither do they believe the foregone conclusion that self-driving vehicles will always outperform experienced, middle-aged drivers. They also expect the risk to those traveling in conventional vehicles to increase during this transition period. 

Additional Safety Concerns for Self-Driving Vehicles

Besides the learning curve that must come as self-driving cars take to the road alongside standard-driven vehicles, there are several other safety issues experts, automakers, and drivers must consider.

Self-driving technology is vulnerable to hacking like other computerized devices. Vehicles could be programmed to operate unsafely, causing accidents and personal injury. Many driverless cars are not suitable for severe weather, because rain and snow can interfere with or damage laser sensors mounted on the exterior. 

Also, although self-driving technology is advanced, it may not adjust for jaywalking pedestrians, roadblocks, unpredictable motorists, and traffic laws that vary from state to state. 

Tesla’s Safety ScoreBeta system is a step in the right direction. Any means of assessing safe, and unsafe, driving habits is useful. However, should drivers be rewarded for a high safety score until the technology is foolproof? 

Ultimately, every driver has a duty to make safe decisions behind the wheel to protect themselves and others. If they are careless and someone gets hurt in a car accident they cause, they can be held liable for the physical injuries, property damage, and other losses that occur. 

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Clients Injured in Car Accidents Caused by Reckless Drivers 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a serious car accident, the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help. Detail by detail, our skilled legal team builds a strong case to show liability and recover compensation for your medical bills, lost income, and other losses. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.


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