The History of Tesla Full Self Driving

Tesla Full Self-Driving is a software product sold as an optional upgrade by Tesla that provides a range of self-driving features.

All Tesla vehicles manufactured since April 2019 contain the inbuilt hardware necessary to support Full Self-Driving, and older models can be upgraded. Once a Tesla owner purchases Full Self-Driving, which now costs $12,000 or $200 per month, the car will download the software and Full Self-Driving will become available.

Full Self-Driving will steer, accelerate, brake and navigate to a destination set by the driver. When the software is activated, the driver is not driving the car – rather, Tesla states that they must supervise Full Self-Driving by remaining alert and being ready to take over.

Tesla also warns in a lengthy disclaimer that the software “may do the wrong thing at the worst time.”

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software is regulated as a Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), which, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers, means that the driver is responsible for the vehicle’s actions, even when its driver assistance features are operational and engaged.

There are five levels of automation, with five being full autonomy with the vehicle’s autonomous software being in full control.

For Level 2 ADAS software, the driver must constantly supervise the vehicle and remain responsible and liable for the vehicle’s actions.


July 2003 - Tesla Founded

Tesla was incorporated in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Tesla’s name served as a tribute to inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla

February 2004 - Elon Musk joins Tesla as CEO

In February 2004 Elon Musk joined as the company’s largest shareholder and in 2008 he was named CEO.

February 2008 - Tesla Roadster launched

Tesla launched its first vehicle, the Roadster, an electric sports car.


June 2010 - Tesla Initial Public Offering

Tesla goes public, and was priced at $17 per share in its IPO.


2013 - Elon Musk considers autonomous driving

In discussions with Google, Elon Musk considered the idea of a self-driving car. Clashes with Google over how to safely develop the technology led to Tesla developing their own self-driving system, using the same approach rejected by Google on safety grounds.


October 2015 - Autopilot launched

Tesla launched Autopilot in 60,000 vehicles.

Autopilot amounts to partial vehicle automation that aims to enhance safety and convenience behind the wheel. Although Tesla vehicles at the time were initially equipped with radar for use with Autopilot, now each new Tesla vehicle is equipped with multiple external cameras and powerful vision processing to provide an additional layer of safety.

By November 2016 Autopilot had accumulated approximately 300 million miles of data.


May 2016 - First Autopilot Death

The first confirmed Autopilot fatality occurred on May 7th, 2016, when Tesla owner Joshua Brown was killed after Autopilot failed to detect a turning tractor-trailer.

June 2016

“A Model S and Model X at this point can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person. Right now.”Elon Musk

October 2016 - Tesla stages self-driving demonstration

Tesla published a demonstration of its Full Self-Driving software, purportedly showing a Tesla autonomously driving in Palo Alto, CA. Elon Musk requested that a front card be added to the video, reading: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.” Tesla’s Director of Autopilot Software later admitted the video was staged.

Elon Musk tells the world that the “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all)”.


May 2017

“We’re still on track for being able to go cross-country from LA to New York by the end of the year, fully autonomous.” – Elon Musk




March 2018 - Apple engineer killed in second high-profile Autopilot crash

Tesla owner and Apple software engineer Walter Huang was killed when his Model X, driving on Autopilot mode, collided with a concrete barrier on a California freeway. The National Transportation Safety Board stated that Huang had over relied on Tesla’s marketing of Autopilot safety.



April 2019 - Tesla Autonomy Day

Tesla hosted an investor event in which Elon Musk made a series of claims about Tesla’s technological superiority and the future growth of its self-driving program. Musk told investors: “by a year from now we’ll have over a million cars with Full Self-Driving, computer hardware, everything”, and that “next year for sure, we will have over a million Robotaxis on the road.” Musk claimed that robotaxis would generate Tesla owners up to $30,000 a year in profit, by giving autonomous taxi rides when their owners weren’t using their cars.

October 2020 - Launch of the FSD Beta Program

In October 2020, Tesla announced the launch of the Full Self-Driving (Beta) program, which put Tesla’s self-driving software on city streets for the first time. At first, this experimental software was released to a limited number of consumers.

December 2020

“I’m extremely confident of achieving full autonomy and releasing it to the Tesla customer base next year.”Elon Musk




June 2021 - US Department of Transportation demands crash and fatality data relating to self-driving software from automakers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Standing General Order on crash reporting, which mandated that automakers who sell self-driving systems, or driving assistance systems, report crashes and deaths where self-driving software was active.

June 2021 - The Dawn Project is founded by Dan O'Dowd

In a presentation given for the 2020 Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award, Dan O’Dowd (BS ’76) announced The Dawn Project and The Dawn Methodology.

Dan O’Dowd founded The Dawn Project to make all computers safe for humanity.

September 2021 - FSD Beta Program Expands

Tesla allows more users to access FSD Beta, provided they achieve a high enough “safety score,” which measures driving metrics including the frequency of hard braking and aggressive turning.

October 2021 - Tesla halts production of FSD Beta Version 10.3 after safety issues

In October 2021, Elon tweeted that Tesla had experienced “some issues with 10.3, so rolling back to 10.2 temporarily”, showing Tesla’s willingness to ship a version of the software without testing it to the extent that they could identify all known defects.

January 2022 - Launch of The Dawn Project

Safety advocacy group The Dawn Project, founded by software expert Dan O’Dowd, launches its campaign to ban Tesla Full Self-Driving with a full page ad in the New York Times.

April 2022 - Dan O’Dowd launches US Senate campaign

Dan O’Dowd commences his campaign for US Senate, pledging to ban Tesla Full Self-Driving. Dan broadcasts nationwide TV commercials highlighting the dangers of Tesla’s defective self-driving technology and Elon Musk’s false promises.

Politico covers the launch of the campaign, together with the television advertising campaign raising awareness surrounding the dangers of Tesla Full Self-Driving.

May 2022 - Dan O’Dowd interviewed by The New York Times

Dan is interviewed by The New York Times about his campaign to make computers safe for humanity and about his Senate campaign to ban Tesla Full Self-Driving.

June 2022 - NHTSA publishes the results of its Standing General Order

Data from the regulator shows the crashes and fatalities involving Tesla’s self-driving software. By 2024, Tesla’s technology was active in over 1,000 crashes and 33 deaths.

August 2022 - The Dawn Project broadcasts nationwide ad campaign showing Tesla Full Self-Driving will run down a child

Safety tests conducted by The Dawn Project are broadcast nationwide, showing Tesla Full Self-Driving running down a child sized mannequin in its path.

Tesla responds by issuing a Cease and Desist Letter to Dan O’Dowd, threatening litigation and demanding the removal of the video.

November 2022 - The Dawn Project publishes a series of ads in The New York Times

The ad campaign revealed critical safety defects in Tesla’s self-driving software, together with staunch public opposition to unsafe autonomous vehicles.

November 2022 - Tesla Full Self-Driving Wide Release

In November 2022, Elon Musk announced that Full Self-Driving Beta “is now available to anyone in North America”, expanding the number of consumers with access to his experimental software dramatically.


February 2023 - NHTSA recalls Tesla Full Self-Driving days after Dawn Project Super Bowl ad broadcasts the software’s litany of safety defects

The Dawn Project’s ad showing the dangers of Tesla Full Self-Driving was watched by millions of Americans during the Super Bowl, and covered extensively in the national media.

Four days later, NHTSA announced a recall of Tesla Full Self-Driving, stating that the software:”increases the risk of a crash.”

June 2023 - Millions watch Tesla Full Self-Driving blow past a stop sign

In a ride along with The Dawn Project in Santa Barbara, CA, Tesla Full Self-Driving runs a stop sign with prominent Tesla investor Ross Gerber behind the wheel, almost T-boning another vehicle. The footage is viewed over 25 million times on Twitter alone, and Dan O’Dowd debates the dangers of Tesla’s software with Gerber on CNBC.

Live Safety Tests Conducted By The Dawn Project

July 2023 - US Lawmakers Experience Tesla Full Self-Driving first-hand in real world safety tests

US Congressman Salud Carbajal and California State Senator Monique Límon joined Dan to test the safety of Tesla Full Self-Driving in a ride-along in Santa Barbara, California. The results of the ride-along were published in Politico.

December 2023 - The Dawn Project reveals Tesla’s driver monitoring system is unfit for purpose

Safety tests conducted by the safety advocacy group show that Tesla’s driver monitoring system is so defective that it fails to detect a teddy bear behind the wheel.

NHTSA later orders a recall, citing defects in Tesla’s driver monitoring system. Dan O’Dowd explains in The Washington Post why NHTSA’s recall doesn’t go far enough, and fails to address the underlying defects in Tesla’s self-driving software.

Further safety tests conducted by The Dawn Project revealed that Tesla’s driver monitoring system frequently fails to register a distracted driver, and performs much worse than GM and Ford’s driver monitoring systems.

December 2023

“And the data is unequivocal that supervised self-driving is somewhere around four times safer or maybe more than than just human driving by by themselves.”Elon Musk