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Tesla Full Self-Driving: Safety score explained and how to apply for beta

Tesla's full self-driving beta has taken another step forward. Here's what you need to know.

Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Want to try Tesla’s full self-driving car software? You’ll have to undergo a safety test first.

Over the weekend, CEO Elon Musk announced an update to the company’s electric car software via Twitter. The in-car computer now offers a button to request access to the ongoing full self-driving beta program. Touching the button brings up a disclaimer that Tesla will evaluate your performance as a driver to determine eligibility.

The changes represent a significant expansion of Tesla’s beta program, which started in October 2020. The current software promises to drive the car from A to B in select conditions on the understanding that drivers will maintain concentration and intervene when necessary.

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It’s part of the company’s long-standing future goal to bring fully autonomous driving to every Tesla produced since October 2016. The company has missed several deadlines, including a much-touted cross-U.S. demonstration drive in 2017, but early beta testers have shared positive experiences with the software over social media.

It comes at a tense time for Tesla. Jennifer Homendy, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, criticized the beta expansion to the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. She described the term “full self-driving” as “misleading and irresponsible” and added that “basic safety issues have to be addressed before they’re then expanding it to other city streets and other areas.”

In a statement to CNBC, the California Department for Motor Vehicles said the feature “does not make the vehicle an autonomous vehicle per California regulations.” It also claimed that it is reviewing the company’s use of the term “full self-driving.”

Amid the controversy, Tesla is moving ahead with the rollout. Here is how it all works.

Tesla Full Self-Driving beta: How much does it cost?

The software is open to vehicles on the “Hardware 2” or later platform. “Hardware 2,” a series of cameras and sensors designed for fully autonomous driving, started rolling out in October 2016.

Customers will also need to have paid for access to the full self-driving software. Tesla currently charges $10,000 to unlock this feature. This includes a complimentary upgrade to the Full Self-Driving computer 3.0 for cars that don’t already have it.

Tesla also offers a monthly subscription option for those that don’t want to pay so much upfront. Cars require the 3.0 computer, available to select customers for $1,000 plus tax. From there, the company charges $199 per month for vehicles that already have basic Autopilot or $99 per month for ones that already have enhanced Autopilot.

The Tesla Model S.Tesla

Tesla Full Self-Driving beta: How to sign up using the new button

CleanTechnica notes that users may have to update their car’s software before they can gain access. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Enter your vehicle and turn on the power
  • Tap “Controls” on the touchscreen, then “Software”
  • If an update is available, tap “Update available” to schedule a time for the update. Note that the car cannot drive during a software update.

Once updated, follow these steps:

  • Tap “Controls,” then “Autopilot,” then “Request Full Self-Driving Beta”
  • Read the disclaimer. If you agree, check the boxes and press “Opt In”

Once opted in, Tesla will evaluate whether you should get access by reading your safety score. You can access your safety score through the Tesla smartphone app. The score is available on app versions 4.1.0 or later, so ensure your app is up to date.

Tesla Safety Score: What is it?

On September 17, Musk explained that the then-upcoming button would request permission to assess driving behavior. It would use the same calculator as the one for Tesla’s car insurance, which offers up to 30 percent cheaper rates for users in California. Musk claimed that if a user had a good driving record for seven days, they would receive access to the beta.

As Tesla explains on its website, the safety score ranks driving on a score from zero to 100. It does not factor in how many miles or hours a user drives. It calculates a new score every day.

On Tesla's smartphone app, users can see their safety score — a mileage-weighted average of the last 30 days of safety scores.

Tesla claims that most drivers will have a score of 80 or above. It’s important also to note that the scores are vehicle-specific — if you sell your Tesla and buy a new one, or you’re lucky enough to own more than one, your scores won’t transfer. The scores also won’t transfer to a new owner if you sell your Tesla.

Users have shared their experiences of the new scoring system on social media:

Tesla Safety Score: How is it calculated?

The car will measure a driver’s performance from the moment a user switches on the car and can drive when it is switched off. It will exclude trips during service mode and trips that are less than 0.1 miles.

Tesla’s safety score assesses five key factors:

  1. Forward collision warnings per 1,000 miles measure how many times the in-car collision warning is triggered every 1,000 miles. The alert is triggered when the car’s system determines that a front collision with an object is likely without human intervention.
  2. Hard braking, when the driver brakes so hard that it causes backward acceleration at a force of 0.3g. In other words, if the car’s speed drops more than 6.7 mph in one second. This is factored into the safety score as a percentage: of the total time the car reduced its speed faster than 2.2 mph in one second, what percentage of time was spent “hard braking”?
  3. Aggressive turning, when the car accelerates left or right at a force of more than 0.4g. In other words, when the car’s speed increased to the left or right more than 8.9 mph in one second. Just like hard braking, this is factored into the score as a percentage: of the total time the car accelerates more than 4.5 mph in one second to the left or right, what percentage of time was spent “aggressively turning”?
  4. Unsafe following, or how a Tesla measures the car's speed in front and the distance between the two vehicles. It calculates the number of seconds the driver would have to react if the car in front stopped, also known as headway. Unsafe following is factored into the total score as a percentage: of the total time the headway dropped below three seconds, and the car was traveling at least 50 mph, for how much time did the headway drop below one second?
  5. Forced Autopilot disengagement, a warning the driver receives when the semi-autonomous Autopilot mode is enabled and the driver has removed their hands from the steering wheel. If the car warns the driver three times during a trip, Autopilot is disabled for the rest of the journey. For this factor, Tesla assigns a value of one if the driver reached the three warning limit during a trip and zero if they haven’t.

The car will exclude any events that occur during Autopilot, with the obvious exception of forced Autopilot disengagement. That means if there is a forward collision warning during Autopilot, it won’t count toward the total.

The miles driven on Autopilot do, however, count toward mileage-weighted safety scores and forward collision safety warnings per 1,000 miles.

Using the above five factors, Tesla calculates a predicted collision frequency (PCF) to determine how many collisions could occur every one million miles driven.

Tesla's formula for determining the predicted collision frequency.Tesla

The safety score is then calculated using this formula:

Safety Score = 115.382324 - 22.526504 x PCF

Note that Tesla says the current formula is based on its current modeling of six billion miles of data. The company expects this formula to change over time.

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