California Regulators Slam the Brakes on “Autopilot”, Tesla Motors Responds

Tesla Inc (TSLA)

Tesla Motors Inc makes prominent use of the word ‘autopilot’ in its ads for the electric car. But, California regulators do not find it appropriate, and hence, have proposed banning the word. This has given rise to an extraordinary conflict between the state officials and the Silicon Valley powerhouse at a time when automated cars are rapidly hitting the streets, notes a report from The Washington Post.

State regulations on driverless cars

Late Friday, state regulators released a draft, and this move marks an affront to Tesla’s ambitions and self-image. It is also a representative of a muscular exertion of the state power as state and federal officials think about a proper way of governing vehicles that are eliminating the need of human drivers.

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) Store in Southern California

California regulations for the first time set out state rules for deploying driverless cars with no humans on board ready to take over. Top auto-making companies based in California such as Google and Uber, all of which promote driverless technology, have all been pushing hard for that.

Some of the state proposals are in-line with the wishes of manufacturers, while others aren’t.

Concerns over use of words

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has expressed concern about “the risk of driver complacency and misuse of lower level systems where drivers are expected to remain fully engaged in the driving task.” It said drivers must be aware of the limitations.

“The terms ‘self-driving,’ ‘automated,’ ‘auto-pilot,’ and other statements that lead a reasonable person to believe a vehicle is autonomous constitute advertising regulated by the truth-in-advertising provisions in the Vehicle Code,” said the state.

California said that the usage of such terms can be permitted only to those autonomous vehicles that are equipped with a technology having capability of operating or driving the vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person. This will have an impact on other car companies as well.

For example, Mercedes-Benz was criticized as well when it advertised one of its cars by suggesting that the car is capable of driving itself despite the fact that it too had only limited automated capabilities.

Tesla speaks in defense

A Tesla Motors Inc spokeswoman tried defending the company’s word choice, and said that Autopilot makes driving safer and less stressful, and the firm has always tried to make it clear that it does not make a car autonomous any more than its namesake makes an aircraft autonomous.

In May, a Tesla Motors Inc car on Autopilot was involved in a deadly May crash in Florida, and the NHTSA is investigating the incident. Last month, Musk said the company is trying to make its already safe cars on the road much safer by making improving its radar technology. Musk said the company has since then provided an over the air update to Tesla’s around the world, adding it could have prevented the May crash.

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Aman is MBA (Finance) with an experience on both marketing and Finance side. He has work as a Risk Analyst for AIR Worldwide, and is currently leading VeRa FinServ, a Financial Research firm. Favorite pastimes include watching science fiction movies, playing PC games and cricket.


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