Tesla made headlines earlier this week when Elon Musk claimed demand for the “Full Self Driving” (FSD) Beta Suite was so high, any owner could get it. But as we’ve said before, self driving cars do not exist, and are unlikely to exist for some time. This new Tesla system is no different, and despite their ever misleading nomenclature, the electric vehicle manufacturer admitted to the California DMV that the system was in fact a Level 2 Semi-Autonomous Driver Assist System, as classified by SAE.
The admission comes from an email chain, visible on PlainSite, between several Tesla and California DMV Personnel. The most striking admission is in a formal letter from Tesla a ways down the email communications:
“For context, and as we’ve previously discussed, City Streets continues to firmly root the vehicle in SAE Level 2 capability and does not make it autonomous under the DMV’s definition,” wrote Tesla.
Even if Tesla tags “Beta” on the end of their Full Self Driving system, they aren’t releasing an autonomous vehicle. The email chain also confirms Tesla doesn’t have a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California, either on their own or in customer’s hands. The email continues to describe specifics of its Full Self Driving Beta Suite City Streets autonomous functionality:
“As a result, the driver maintains responsibility for this part of the dynamic driving task (DDT). In addition, the driver must supervise the system, monitoring both the driving environment and the functioning of City Streets, and he is responsible forresponding to inappropriate actions taken by the system. The feature is not designed such that a driver can rely on an alert to draw his attention to a situation requiring response. There are scenarios or situations where an intervention from the driver is required but the system will not alert the driver.”
The email goes on to explain the main addition to the existing Autopilot system, City Streets. The beta system will slow, stop or go through for intersections, and make right of left turns if prompted. But it will only do these things if the driver has their hands on the wheel, and applies steering force when making a turn. Again, not self driving, but an active driver assist system or ADAS. Everybody’s got ’em these days.
Arguably, there continues to be a deceptive danger in how Tesla markets their semi-autonomous systems. Yes, they have one of the better driver assist programs out there, but in no Tesla vehicle should you take your hands off the wheel or put your attention anywhere but the road. When they market their electric vehicles as self-driving, however, we get the terrifying videos of people not paying attention behind the wheel, or worse yet, getting out of the driver seat on the highway. Yes, there are actually idiots that upload videos of themselves doing it.
With Tesla’s dangerous terminology, it not only puts their own drivers at risk with misleading titles, but puts other road users at risk. While a Tesla owner may consent to being a beta tester, the person next door in their minivan didn’t. And if that Tesla owner thinks they have a full self driving car and don’t need to pay attention, you have a scary situation. The ethics of this are a discussion for another time, but we would at least like to see Tesla and Elon Musk use honest terms for their electric vehicle systems, like “Advanced Level 2 Semi-Autonomous Driver Assist Beta” when promoting their new software.
And why the hell do they refer to driving a car as a “dynamic driving task?”