Is Tesla's use of Autopilot name misleading?

Amsterdam - The Dutch agency that approved Tesla's “Autopilot” driver assistance system for use throughout Europe is considering what action to take on the name after several German organisations said it could be misleading.

Dutch Road Traffic Service spokesman Hans van Geenhuizen said on Monday: “The RDW has no official opinion about the name Autopilot, as normally we only consider technical aspects and not names.

File picture: Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

“This is new,” he said, referring to the possibility that the name of a driving technology could itself be relevant to a safety review.

On Sunday Germany’s transport minister asked Tesla to stop advertising its electric vehicles as having an Autopilot function as this might suggest drivers' attention isn’t needed.

Tesla said in response to that request that the term autopilot had been used in the aerospace industry for decades to describe a system operating in conjunction with a human driver, and the company had always made it clear to customers that the system required drivers to pay attention at all times.

Tesla's Autopilot, introduced in October 2015, helps the driver steer and stay in lane and is intended to assist - but not replace - drivers.

The system has been the focus of intense scrutiny since a Tesla Model S driver was killed while using the technology in a collision with a truck in Florida on 7 May.

‘Not good enough’

Van Geenhuizen said the RDW was considering the matter internally and would make its official position known - if it decided to issue one - on Tuesday.

The agency approved Tesla's ‘Autopilot’ feature for use throughout Europe in 2015; its possible concerns would only relate to the name and not to the system itself.

On Friday Germany's Federal Motor Transport Authority KBA wrote to owners of Tesla cars, warning them that their vehicles could not be operated without their constant attention and that under traffic regulations they must remain alert.

But German consumer protection agency VZBV said on Monday the ‘Autopilot’ system should not be on the roads.

“A letter to Tesla drivers urging them not to use the Autopilot is not sufficient.” it said. “That shifts the responsibility to consumers for a failure that happened in the approval.”