Tesla’s Autopilot name at the heart of several legal issues

Repeatedly criticized for its designations “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” (FSD), Tesla does not change its mind. These terms actually refer to advanced driver assistance features (ADAS), which are often described by experts as corresponding to SAE level 2, i.e. partial automation requiring the driver’s full attention, a far cry from level 5. SAE which corresponds to a fully autonomous vehicle. Many critics of the manufacturer explain that this name misleads the consumer and can cause accidents in case of inattention.

A favorable judgment in Germany

In Germany, a judge has just ruled in favor of Tesla. The electric vehicle manufacturer can use the terms “Autopilot” and talk about “full potential for autonomous driving” in its advertisements. The Wettbewerbszentrale, an organization responsible for monitoring anti-competitive practices, had filed a complaint with a German court. The latter was rejected, details Reuters.

If in Germany the judge leans in favor of Tesla, the manufacturer also finds itself under the spotlight in the United States. The California Department of Motors Vehicles (DMV) accuses Tesla of false advertising in the presentation of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Californian agency filed two complaints on this subject at the end of July.

The FSD feature costs $12,000 and claims to drive the vehicle autonomously on highways and in some cities, automatically obey traffic lights, and autonomously park the car in a parking lot. Autopilot is a less expensive feature that combines automatic cruise control, lane keeping and lane changes.

Misled customers?

The DMV alleges the electric car maker misled customers with the advertising language used on its website. Autopilot and FSD technologies would be described as performing better than they actually are. The society “has made or disseminated statements that are false or misleading, and not based on fact”, writes the DMV. The latter calls into question a text present on the manufacturer’s site where it is written: “All you have to do is get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, your car will check your calendar and take you there to your supposed destination. Your Tesla will determine the optimal route, navigating on city streets, complex intersections and highways.”

The California agency notes that the site indicates that “The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle self-driving.” But, she adds that this clause which “contradicts the original false or misleading statements and assertions, does not remedy the violation.”

What consequences for Tesla?

In the event of a victory, the DMV can take penalties up to revoking the company’s licenses to manufacture or sell its cars in California. But it is very likely that this case will not go that far and that if sanctions are taken, they will be much less severe. A spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that if the appeal is successful, “The DMV will ask Tesla to advertise to consumers and better educate Tesla drivers about the capabilities of its ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving’ features, including warnings about feature limitations.”

At the same time, the NHTSA, the American agency in charge of road safety, is carrying out an investigation into the Autopilot functionality and the question of whether drivers pay enough attention when this advanced driver assistance system is engaged. This investigation by the American agency in charge of road safety follows 12 collisions involving parked emergency vehicles. The German road safety authority has also opened an investigation to ensure that the driving assistance features offered by Tesla under the name Autopilot can be used safely.

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