Tesla is a controversial company for many reasons, with one of them being the Autopilot feature available on some cars. The technology allows Tesla cars to mostly drive themselves with mixed results, and now one US state is changing how Tesla explains it to buyers.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has passed Senate Bill 1398, which sets out new rules for how autonomous driving features are advertised in the state. It requires any “dealer or manufacturer that sells any new passenger vehicle that is equipped with a partial driving automation feature” to accurately describe the “functions and limitations of those features.”
The law is mostly aimed at Tesla, which often promotes Autopilot as a complete self-driving solution. The name alone might imply it doesn’t need any help from a human driver, and the company’s site states, “all you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go. […] Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigating urban streets, complex intersections and freeways.” However, in other places, Tesla lists “Full Self-Driving Capability” as a separate and currently-unavailable feature.
Tesla’s Autopilot feature is probably the most mature autonomous driving technology currently available, but it’s still unpredictable at times. In June 2020, a Tesla Model 3 with Autopilot in China slammed into a stationary truck, leaving the driver injured. In May 2021, a Tesla Model S crashed into a stopped police patrol car in the state of Washington. More recently, the driver of a Tesla Model Y reported that Autopilot forced itself into the wrong lane and caused a car crash — the first reported incident caused by the “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) beta software.
The passed bill follows other recent legislation by California aimed at electric cars. A law passed earlier this year will require all new passenger vehicle sales to be electric or hybrid by 2035, excluding the sale of used cars. The state also recently adopted new requirements for EV batteries, aimed at ensuring they don’t lose their factory capacity too quickly — a problem that significantly impacts the resale value of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
We’re still far off from a future where cars can drive themselves, and now the state of California is trying to make it more clear to potential car buyers that we aren’t there yet. The new law will go into effect in 2023.