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Tesla forced to disable autopilot features for Hong Kong owners

Self-driving tech is moving too fast

Tesla’s controversial autopilot mode has hit a roadblock in Hong Kong. The electric car maker has turned off automatic steering and lane change functions for Hong Kong owners after city officials asked to review the autonomous features for safety measures, according to International Business Times. Hong Kong's transportation department fears the city's notoriously convoluted traffic will cause unwanted crashes when combined with autonomous driving software still considered to be in beta.

"The Autosteer and Auto Lane Change functions in our recent 7.0 software update are still pending approval from Hong Kong’s Transport Department," the company wrote to Tesla owners in Hong Kong yesterday. "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."

Tesla Model S owners in Hong Kong can't let their cars drive themselves

Though still considered semi-autonomous, the Model S's autopilot mode represents a new challenge for lawmakers worldwide grappling with the accelerating pace of self-driving car technology. Tesla was able to imbue its fleet of vehicles with certain autonomous capabilities through a smartphone-style, over-the-air update pushed out last month. That process let Tesla bypass the standard regulatory process that may have otherwise kept the feature from making its way into less tech-centric cars. Yet the feature is creating a liability and safety nightmare for lawmakers around the globe, who are struggling to figure out how to best regulate cars that begin sharing responsibility with drivers.

Tesla has tried — and failed — to keep drivers from abusing the feature. Frightening YouTube videos of Tesla owners ignoring the company's advice to keep both hands on the steering wheel began surfacing shortly after the update went out. "We will be putting some additional constraints on when Autopilot can be activated to minimize the possibility of people doing crazy things with it," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on an earnings call earlier this month. It's unclear what measures Tesla will take to curtail autonomous driving abuses, but the company could, for example, implement a safety measure to ensure drivers do not take both hands of the steering wheel for more than a few seconds.