Tesla’s autopilot feature was disabled in Hong Kong after the company ignored regulators

Put those hands back on the wheel.
Put those hands back on the wheel.
Image: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
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In October Tesla turned 60,000 Model S vehicles into “semi-autonomous vehicles” thanks to an autopilot software update. But drivers in Hong Kong eager to test that feature out will have to wait. The city’s transportation authorities have declared parts it illegal—not because they think it is dangerous, but because Tesla didn’t go through the proper regulatory process to get it approved.

The South China Morning Post reports Hong Kong’s Transport Department issued a warning to the California-based company on October 30th, informing it that it must first apply (paywall) to receive regulatory approval before rolling out the auto-steering and auto-lane changing to drivers. Drivers who activate autopilot might be subject to fines, authorities said. Autonomous parking, however, could remain enabled.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in October that the company had received approval everywhere but Japan:

A Tesla spokesperson told the South China Morning Post this week that the company technically didn’t apply for regulatory approval of autopilot in Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s traffic laws are identical to Europe’s.

Tesla disabled the autopilot feature last night (Nov. 19). “We are working with the Transport Department to obtain approval as quickly as possible,” the company said in a statement. “While the outcome of regulatory reviews cannot be guaranteed, we are optimistic and expect to receive final approvals soon.

Hong Kong has been aggressively promoting the adoption of electric vehicles. The city is home to 3,000 electronic vehicles, about two-thirds of which are made by Tesla. The government waives taxes on new vehicle registration for individuals and businesses, and also has a $300 million fund to subsidize green technology upgrades for the city’s transportation providers. But green tech is not the same as self-driving tech, so the company’s positive environmental impact might not do much to dampen anxiety about autonomous cars.