Touted by Elon Musk as “accelerating sustainable energy and autonomy,” Tesla Inc. is producing a line of zero-emission electric vehicles that herald a gasoline-free future. However, the business is not without its troubles. Recent misfortunes include accusations from the DMV that could force Tesla to change the name of one of its most popular features.
How Tesla Markets Its Full-Self Driving Upgrade May Mislead Consumers
Introduced by Senator Lena Gonzalez in February and passed by California lawmakers in September 2022, SB-1398 has the potential to change the way automakers market “self-driving” vehicles. Specifically, the new California law requires self-driving car makers to inform consumers of the actual functions and limitations of assist features such as partial driving automation. Currently, Tesla sells this feature as an autopilot computer upgrade called Full Self-Driving (FSD).
According to Business Insider, the new consumer protection and public safety law does not specifically target Tesla. However, Gonzalez revealed that other semi-autonomous automakers, including BMW, Ford and General Motors, have historically been more transparent about the true limitations of their products. The problem is that some people think that a Tesla self-driving vehicle doesn’t require drivers to be careful, and that’s not the case at all.
Self-driving cars cannot yet be trusted to completely drive themselves
Driver assist features such as adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking systems, electronic blind spot assist, lane departure warnings and collision avoidance systems go a long way to making driving safer and easier to manage. But none of them are able to pilot a vehicle without any human help. So far, there is no vehicle on the road that can be trusted to handle all driving tasks.
The California DMV defines autonomous mode as an operational state where technology combines remote or on-board hardware and software that performs dynamic driving tasks with or without the supervision of a physical person. Dynamic driving tasks under this definition include, but are not limited to, object and event detection, turn signals and lane changes, maneuver planning, acceleration and deceleration, and steering.
As of now, SB-1398 awaits California Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature. If that happens, the DMV will add the new law to its regulations on the marketing and sale of vehicles.
The California DMV told the Los Angeles Times that the upcoming law will force Tesla and other automakers to better educate the public by warning them of the honest limits of supposedly self-driving automobiles.
Tesla wobbles but doesn’t tank
The California law that could force the automaker to design a new name for its FSD feature stems from hundreds of autopilot crashes reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In June 2022, The New York Times reported that NHTSA’s scrutiny of some 830,000 Tesla cars revealed that, despite being labeled “fully autonomous”, self-driving vehicles are not safe without human intervention. To be fair, Tesla says the Autopilot and FSD features are intended for use by “fully attentive” drivers who remain ready to take over driving tasks at all times.
Tesla also says that although they are designed to become more capable over time, current FSD features do not make their vehicles fully autonomous. However, people who don’t take the time to read the fine print may miss this important fact.
If and when SB-1398 goes into effect, “self-driving” vehicles for sale will make their limitations much more apparent to consumers. One solution could be to force Tesla to stop calling itself a fully self-driving car.
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