Tesla Disables Model S Autopilot Feature For Hong Kong Owners Over Safety Concerns

Nov 21, 2015 04:04 PM EST | John Nassivera

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Tesla Motor's popular autopilot feature is experiencing some trouble in Hong Kong, as the company has wirelessly disabled it for Model S owners in the city over safety concerns.

The Transportation Department in Hong Kong requested that the electric automaker turn the feature off due to local traffic officials being worried that hands-free driving would distract drivers in the city's traffic, which is known for being extremely hectic, and lead to crashes, . While Tesla warns its drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take back control of the vehicle, some drivers still ignore instructions.

The request comes two months after Tesla made the technology available to Model S owners.

"The Autosteer and Auto Lane Change functions in our recent 7.0 software update are still pending approval from Hong Kong's Transport Department," Tesla wrote Thursday to Model S owners in Hong Kong, . "To ensure we comply with the country's regulators, we will be temporarily turning off these two functions on all Model S in Hong Kong effective immediately."

The decision presents a challenge for lawmakers around the world in regulating self-driving technology while having drivers share responsibility, as it also follows one month after Tesla launched an over-the-air update that gave its vehicles this autonomous technology. The update allowed the company to bypass the standard regulatory process that usually keeps cars that aren't ready for this technology from obtaining it.

In addition to letting drivers travel hands-free for as long as they want, the autopilot feature allows lane changing on command and automatic parallel parking.

Cases in which the feature has been abused include one where one driver activated it in order to shave in the front seat, and another in which the driver climbed into the back seat in order to see how well the feature worked, . Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested in an earnings call earlier this month that his company will install limitations for the technology.

"There's been some fairly crazy videos on YouTube," said Musk. "[...] this is not good. And we will be putting some additional constraints on when Autopilot can be activated to minimize the responsibility of people doing crazy things with it."

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