Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” Beta exists in an odd middle ground of semi-autonomy. On the one hand, its capabilities put it firmly in the category of a Level 2 system: It cannot operate without a human driver, ready to take over at any time, and is easily confused by changing conditions outside the car. The Tesla faithful, however, seem to believe the car is capable of so much more — and will put themselves and others at risk to prove it. The misleading name definitely doesn’t help.
California allows vehicle manufacturers to implement Level 2 systems in production vehicles but has much more stringent requirements for tests of any semi-autonomous system meant to move further up the chain. With more and more videos coming out of dangerous actions undertaken by the FSD software — not to mention updates that explicitly allow law-breaking decisions — the California DMV now has a decision to face: Should the FSD beta be regulated for its functions or the way it’s used?
At the behest of lawmakers, California’s DMV is now weighing that question. FSD has skated by regulations thus far because of its functional status as a Level 2 system on the SAE scale of autonomy. When facing regulators, Tesla itself is happy to use that definition to avoid oversight. When speaking to fans, prospective buyers, or the world at large, however, the tone starts to shift.
True. Anyone paying attention to the rate of improvement will realize that Tesla Autopilot/FSD is already superhuman for highway driving & swiftly getting there for city streets.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2021
Tesla’s software is most assuredly not “superhuman,” but it’s easy to see how an owner could be fooled. Even the software’s name implies functionality far beyond what’s actually offered, and that’s before you get into Musk’s tweets about autonomous cross-country trips that make FSD Beta sound more capable than it really is.
If California wants to continue its hands-off approach towards the FSD Beta software, it wouldn’t necessarily be going against its own rules. The state DMV doesn’t touch Level 2 systems, after all. But when software is both marketed and used in a way that far outstrips its actual capability, regulatory attention is warranted — and, as it happens, necessary.