Tesla bill moves forward, amid concerns from aftermarket dealers




    A Tesla Model S P85. Photo by MediaGamut | Creative Commons

    Legislation that would allow police to ticket Tesla drivers who attempt to circumvent safety features that are part of the cars’ self-driving mode moved forward Wednesday, despite concerns from aftermarket auto dealers who expressed concerns that the bill would tie their hands. 

    Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican and a Tesla owner himself, sponsored House Bill 2060, which states that a person may not override the safety features of a fully autonomous or partially autonomous vehicle. 

    He said the idea for the bill came after he saw a video of a Tesla driver asleep at the wheel and discovered that drivers had been putting weights on their steering wheel to bypass a specific safety feature put in place by the car manufacturer. 

    Tesla’s vehicles can operate in a semi-autonomous mode in which they can regulate speed and make minor corrections. It’s a mode Kavanagh said he has used, and has seen the limitations of. But in that mode the cars are still not fully autonomous.

    Ray Colas, a lobbyist for aftermarket auto part dealer LKQ Corporation, said Kavanagh’s attempt to punish unsafe drivers could instead penalize auto shop owners who add aftermarket parts to Teslas or other vehicles with autonomous driving technology. 

    Most modern vehicles on the road have some form of autonomy, whether it be cruise control or computer-assisted braking designed to prevent rear-end collisions. There are five levels of autonomy, as defined by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration

    Colas said making it illegal to modify the vehicle’s on-board computer system presents a problem for companies like his. He said that auto shops that add larger wheels to a Tesla vehicle, for instance, make changes to the on-board programming to account for the change in how the vehicle will drive. 

    But Tesla lobbyist Meghaen Dell’Artino disagreed, and said the bill would only restrict tampering with the computer systems specifically related to safety.

    “We do not believe there is anything in the bill that would prohibit anyone from changing their tires or computer system, as that is not a safety feature,” Dell’Artino said, adding that Tesla and other “industry partners” helped craft an amendment to the bill that clarified levels of autonomy and defined an autonomous vehicle in the bill. 

    Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, said he could see how modifying programming for tires could eventually “creep into that area” of safety, and urged Tesla to continue to work with the aftermarket parts industry. 

    Kavanagh’s bill is primarily aimed at people who seek to trick Tesla’s safety systems, which require a driver’s hands be on the steering wheel. However, people have devised ways to fool the car, including using fishing weights or wedging a water bottle into the steering wheel.

    Under HB2060, police officers could fine drivers up to $250. 

    The bill and the amendment passed unanimously. 

    Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
    Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.