Tesla’s ‘Full Self Driving’ Push Is Okay In California—Because It’s Not Real Self-Driving

A car company telling people they can add a feature to their vehicle called “full-self driving” is reasonable. It allows a person to relax, read, or nap while the car drives. This assumption about Tesla Full Self Driving (or FSD) is false. It also implies that the U.S. state with the highest number of Teslas won’t prohibit a new subscription program.

Tesla FSD is not a Waymo-style robotaxi technology but an advanced driver assistance system. It requires California approval to be used on California roads. Tesla beta software warns that the driver must be vigilant when using it. However, California regulators have been informed by Tesla lawyers that FSD subscriptions are not considered autonomous systems.

The California Department tells Forbes of Motor Vehicles that autonomous vehicle regulations apply to vehicles capable of operating at levels 3, 4, or 5. “The DMV doesn’t regulate Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. A human driver must continuously and actively monitor these systems.”

According to the company, vehicle owners who wish to upgrade their Autopilot systems from a previous purchase can pay a monthly subscription fee of $99 to $199. The enhancements include Navigate on Autopilot, which allows a vehicle to navigate from highway on-ramps and off-ramps. It also gives the ability to drive on city streets, identify stop signs, traffic signals, and slow or stop the vehicle accordingly. Although FSD features are still in beta, a recent video from one user shows serious reliability issues. These include the car not recognizing it is in a bus-only San Francisco lane, failing to change lanes, and failing to avoid bushes.

Elon Musk first spoke about FSD in 2016 but has not yet achieved the fully autonomous cross country drive he had promised years ago. Tesla is not even close to Musk’s vision of an independent ride network that vehicle owners can use, in which they make their FSD cars available to the service. He had suggested that this might be possible as soon as 2020. It wasn’t.

Tesla’s current promotion for FSD is concerning Consumer Reports. This week, Consumer Reports stated that the system has no safeguards for users.

Jake Fisher, Senior Director of CR’s Auto Test Center, stated that FSD beta nine videos don’t show a system making driving safer or less stressful. “Consumers pay to be tested engineers to develop technology that doesn’t provide adequate safety protection.”

Another concern is that Full Self Driving can confuse consumers. It implies a level of capability that does not exist at the moment. California’s DMV started a review last year of Tesla’s plans to roll out FSD. Eric Williams, a Tesla lawyer, told the agency in a Nov. 20, 2020 letter that cars using FSD’s City Streets mode were not autonomous.

“Currently, neither Autopilot nor FSD capability is autonomous systems, and currently, no component feature either singularly or collectively is autonomous or makes our cars autonomous.” Williams also mentioned that City Streets was only available in pilot form.

NHTSA said last month that it is investigating ten fatal accidents in which Autopilot was used.

California’s DMV said that it is continuing to review Tesla’s claims regarding automated vehicle technology. DMV stresses that manufacturers must inform drivers and customers about the capabilities and limitations of their technology, regardless of how advanced the vehicle is.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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