Once a recently passed bill is signed into law, Tesla might be forced to drop the names of its infamous semi-autonomous driving suite.
Elon Musk made the news this week by stating that he wanted Tesla's Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology to be ready before the end of the year. The software has only been available to specific customers to beta test. Making it available to everyone is a giant leap, and not necessarily in the right direction.
In our report earlier this week, we predicted a legal minefield. As it turns out, the State of California was already working on legislation barring Tesla from using the term "Full Self-Driving."
FSD is only a Level 2+ system and is not capable of fully autonomous driving. And even though Tesla has a disclaimer on its website mentioning FSD's limitations, it hasn't stopped owners from pushing the limits.
Earlier this week, the California State Senate passed an amendment to Senate Bill NO. 1398, first introduced by Senate Transportation Committee Chair Lena Gonzalez in February 2022.
The amended bill clearly states that "A dealer or manufacturer shall not sell any new passenger vehicle that is equipped with any partial driving automation feature, or provide any software update or other vehicle upgrade that adds any partial driving automation feature, without, at the time of delivering or upgrading the vehicle, providing the buyer or owner with a distinct notice that provides the name of the feature and clearly describes the functions and limitations of the feature."
It goes even further by barring a manufacturer from naming or describing any partial automation feature that would lead a customer to believe otherwise. Basically, it bars a company from using any terms, descriptions, or language that would have a reasonable person believe the vehicle can function completely autonomously.
While the senate passed the amendment, it's still waiting to be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. The wording makes it quite clear that it's after Tesla. Other manufacturers have been wise in naming their advanced driver-assistance systems. Ford uses BlueCruise, and General Motors settled on Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise. Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot (the world's first internationally approved Level 3 system) is still on the risky side but nowhere close to as confusing as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving.
The law is not a criticism of the technology but rather the name and the marketing. The bill mentions "any reasonable customer," but we've all seen Tesla owners test the limits. The NHTSA is currently investigating 38 Autopilot-related crashes.
"Are we just going to wait for another person to be killed in California?" Gonzalez said in an interview with Business Insider. "People in California think Full Self-Driving is fully automated when it's not," she added.
If Governor Newsom signs the changes into law, Tesla may be forced to change the names of Full Self-Driving and Autopilot. It's clear from Gonzalez's comments that she's going after FSD, but the term "Autopilot" is also a prime example of the terminology this bill wants to combat.
In the interest of fairness, we have seen FSD and Autopilot doing some remarkable things. FSD in a Model 3 recently saved a person from getting knocked over as she was exiting her car, and last year Autopilot saved a drunk man from killing himself and others.
Unfortunately, there are far more bad examples, which will likely be used as proof as to why Tesla needs to change the names of its systems.