German officials have told Tesla to stop using the term ‘Autopilot’ for its driver assistance tools. It argues the name gives a false impression of how little attention users can pay while driving with the feature.
Rather than being a full-blown autonomous/self-driving vehicle system, Autopilot is more of an enhanced version of established features such as cruise control and automatic parking. It only works once the car is started and is travelling at a constant speed in specific types of roads and traffic (relatively straight and well-marked lanes with limited intersections, barriers between opposing traffic, and no cyclists) where the system has good mapping. The car can then maintain or adjust speed as needed, as well as repositioning itself within a lane and even changing lane.
While the system does technically work without the driver having their hands on the wheel, doing so may not be legal (or indeed safe) in all circumstances. Last month Tesla updated the software so that if a driver takes their hands off for more than one minute with the car exceeding 45 miles per hour, they’ll get an audible and visual warning. Ignore three warnings inside one hour and the feature switches off and can’t be reused until after the car is next parked.
Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority has now written to Tesla saying “In order to prevent misunderstanding and incorrect customers’ expectations, we demand that the misleading term ‘autopilot’ is no longer used in advertising the system.” It’s also written to Tesla owners to remind them that they still need to give the road their constant attention. Tesla hasn’t said it if will comply with the demand but likens the term to its use by airlines where pilots must continue to monitor the flight.