SAFETY: Germany Takes Issue with Tesla Autopilot

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Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been in the news nonstop since it made its debut. This slice of futuristic technology lets Teslas drive themselves and is the subject of countless videos showing off how well it works. The problem is that it’s only semi-autonomous, not fully autonomous, and this is causing problems. Germany sent letters to Tesla owners to warn them that the feature is only designed to help the driver not replace one, and now they want Tesla to stop using the term Autopilot in advertising.

It seems a little like splitting hairs, but the last few months prove there is confusion about what Autopilot does no matter where in the world you live. It all started with reports of Autopilot malfunctioning. A closer look at many of those incidents showed that it wasn’t so much faulty technology as user error.

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Autopilot implies the car will drive without aid from a driver. The reality is that the driver is still absolutely necessary and is supposed to have their hands on the wheel while the feature is in use. Several minor accidents were reported where no one was injured, but the car was damaged. In many cases, it was confirmed that the driver’s hands were not on the wheel. There was also one fatality in May while a driver was operating his car in Autopilot mode.

Germany’s Federal Motor Authority sent letters to Tesla owners last week to remind them that they need to be paying attention even when their cars are in Autopilot mode. They’re now going a step further and asking Tesla to stop using the term in its advertising.

Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority sent Tesla a letter asking them to no longer use what they consider to be a misleading term. Tesla doesn’t agree, saying instead they make it clear to their customers that Autopilot is an assistance feature, not a replacement for a driver.

While that may be true, the number of accidents where people are using the technology incorrectly makes Germany’s point valid. Autopilot sounds, to the layperson, like a technology that should let you sit back, relax, and ignore the road while the car does all the work. Details might be in the manual, but how many people read that cover-to-cover the minute they get a new car?

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Germany is only requesting that Tesla stop using Autopilot in advertising, so there’s nothing to force them to change the name of their technology, yet. The confusion the name has caused might not get them to change anything, but it will definitely have every automaker thinking much more carefully about the names they choose for their latest and greatest technologies.