'The Wrong Thing at the Worst Time': Tesla's Full Self-Driving Disclaimer

Defining 'Full' in Tesla-speak

  • Tesla's new Full Self-Driving system comes with a rather disturbing disclaimer.
  • The system "may do the wrong thing at the worst time" — and you have to accept that to use it.

Tesla has released the long-promised Full Self-Driving update, but importantly, the product is still in beta. And it's got a doozy of a disclaimer.

Full Self-Driving is in early limited access Beta and must be used with additional caution. It may do the wrong thing at the worst time, so you must always keep your hands on the wheel and pay extra attention to the road. Do not become complacent.


Use Full Self-Driving in limited Beta only if you will pay constant attention to the road, and be prepared to act immediately ...

Yep, that's right. Per Tesla's own software, it's a full self-driving system that may do the wrong thing at the worst time.

Of course, this being Tesla, it's no surprise that the product name implies caution is not required (see also: Autopilot). Also unsurprising is the fact that some Tesla fans have apparently disregarded the fine print. Videos of people using FSD without their hands on the wheel have already been posted, despite the disclaimer's statement that "you must always keep your hands on the wheel."

Tesla hasn't responded to the video, although CEO Elon Musk commented simply, "Haha."

We've owned every major Tesla model and we're a little concerned

Look, the technology here is undeniably impressive. We're eager to put it to a full test in our long-term Tesla Model Y. But we also know that Tesla's Autopilot has already been a factor in a number of collisions, including some fatalities, where drivers felt they could stop paying attention to the road while Autopilot was functioning. Anecdotally, some of our own drivers have observed alarming hiccups while testing Autopilot's various iterations.

The heart of the issue is the degree to which Tesla monitors the driver. Cadillac's Super Cruise, currently the only system for sale that explicitly allows hands-free driving, monitors the driver's eyeline to ensure that the person is keeping his or her eyes on the road. Even though Tesla has an interior camera, it's not used for driver monitoring.

Ostensibly, the steering wheel checks for input to make sure the driver has hands on the wheel, but based on extensive video and anecdotal accounts, including our own experience, that safety measure seems to offer a significant amount of leeway. In the end, this means the company is really trusting drivers to read — and comply with — the terms of the disclaimer. A reasonable person might conclude that driver behavior to date does not warrant this trust.

In any event, Tesla has successfully used the language in its disclaimers to distance itself from past accidents, and this latest disclaimer looks set to uphold that tradition. After all, it does explicitly state that the driver must have hands on the wheel, must be paying attention to the road, and must be prepared to take control of the vehicle.

Edmunds Says

So here we are. Tesla has launched the beta version of Full Self-Driving, but with the warning that "it may do the wrong thing at the worst time." Stay tuned to our Tesla Model Y Long-Term Road Test for a comprehensive assessment of just how "full" Tesla's latest self-driving program seems to be. As of this writing, our Model Y doesn't appear to be part of the beta test yet, but we're hoping it will be added in the near future.

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