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Tesla's Full Self-Driving mode under the watchful eye of NHTSA

The US government agency said in a statement it plans to keep a very close eye on Tesla's new system as it reaches more drivers.

Tesla Model 3 Autopilot
NHTSA has its eye on Tesla.

This week brought a big day for Tesla and owners of the automaker's tech-laden electric cars: the long-awaited Full Self-Driving beta launched with the first group of owners, and it'll start rolling out to even more drivers by this weekend. It's exciting, and a little scary, considering the system update's disclaimer includes the phrase, "It may do the wrong thing at the worst time."

Naturally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made it very clear on Thursday that it will keep tabs on how the system performs as more Tesla drivers start flipping the feature on around city streets. In a statement, the agency said it plans to "monitor the new technology closely" and underscored it "will not hesitate to take action to protect the public against unreasonable risks to safety." That, readers, is a very definitive warning to Tesla, aka, "make sure this works, or we'll put a stop to it."

NHTSA also once again reminded the public there are no self-driving cars on sale today, despite what automakers name their driver-assist systems. Indeed, the Full Self-Driving beta tells every driver they must keep their hands on the wheel at all times while the computers operate the car. "Abusing these technologies is, at a minimum, distracted driving," the agency said.

Any Tesla owner who paid for the Full Self-Driving system when purchasing their Tesla will eventually have access to the beta, while the company plans to continuously update and overhaul the system as the cars' neural networks learn more. Tesla famously envisions fleets of driverless cars without using lidar, but if this side-step pays off, it could pay off big time for the automaker.

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