German Government Asks Tesla To Stop Using Misleading Autopilot Terminology

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Tesla is running into more roadblocks with its Autopilot functionality, which is found on its Model S and Model X EVs. The use of Autopilot, which allows a vehicle to operate semi-autonomously with minimal driver interaction, has come under increasing scrutiny ever since a driver was killed on a Florida highway over the summer.

Now the German government is stepping in by asking Tesla to stop using the term Autopilot. German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt sent the request in a letter to the American automaker on Friday. In the letter, the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) stated, "In order to prevent misunderstanding and incorrect customers' expectations, we demand that the misleading term Autopilot is no longer used in advertising the system."

For its part, Tesla says that 1) Autopilot is an apt name for its technology and 2) it has clearly laid out all safety precautions that drivers should use when enabling the feature. "Just as in an airplane, when used properly, Autopilot reduces driver workload and provides an added layer of safety when compared to purely manual driving," said a Tesla spokesperson in a statement to Reuters.

tesla autopilot

It appears that the KBA thinks that drivers simply ignore Tesla’s precautionary statements about Autopilot and assume that they can relinquish nearly all control of the vehicle to the computer. However, Tesla has all along been adamant that Autopilot is merely an assistance feature and helps save lives. “Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert,” wrote Tesla in a blog posting shortly after the fatal Florida accident.

“Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.”

It should be noted that competing auto manufacturers have also come out against Autopilot, with the most prominent one being Volvo. In April, months before the accident that put Autopilot in the spotlight, Volvo senior technical leader for crash avoidance Trent Victor said “[Autopilot] gives you the impression that it's doing more than it is” and that it “is more of an unsupervised wannabe."

“It's important for us as a company, our position on autonomous driving, is to keep it quite different so you know when you're in semi-autonomous and know when you're in unsupervised autonomous,” Victor added. "In our concept, if you don't take over, if you have fallen asleep or are watching a film, then we will take responsibility still. We won't just turn [autonomous mode] off.”