A California-based consumer advocacy group is urging the state's DMV to crack down on Tesla’s use of the words "autopilot" and “self-driving” in its marketing, saying the terms mislead consumers into believing the feature is safer than it actually is.
In September, the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued a letter to Tesla and 14 other companies now testing autonomous driving features on California roads, saying the department had reservations about the way such features were being described to consumers.
“As specified in the revised draft regulations, a vehicle cannot be advertised as autonomous in California unless it meets the definition of "autonomous” specified in Vehicle Code 38750 and the autonomous vehicle regulations,” the letter read. “The terms “self-driving”, “automated”, “autopilot”, 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."
Despite that guidance, Tesla continues to market Autopilot in California, the company’s largest market. CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Sunday that the firm is planning another significant update to its Autopilot software in December.
This week, the Santa Monica-based nonprofit Consumer Watchdog said the DMV should make good on its promise, and order Tesla to immediately stop using the word Autopilot.
“The (other proposed regulations in the September letter) are complex and it makes sense to take the time necessary to get them right,” wrote John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project director. “The situation is different with the advertising provision. The language is clear and straightforward. Car manufacturers, like Tesla, are hyping their vehicles now.”
Two people have been killed while using Autopilot, which Tesla notes remains far safer than traditional driving. The company says Autopilot clearly warns drivers to pay attention to road conditions and be prepared to take over at any moment.
“Tesla owners have communicated that they understand how Autopilot works and should be used, and this is clearly explained and reinforced every time a customer uses the feature,” a company spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times. “The inaccurate and sensationalistic view of Autopilot put forth by this group is exactly the kind of misinformation that threatens to harm consumer safety.”