PhotoCarmakers should be a bit more circumspect in their claims for self-driving cars, a California consumer group thinks. Consumer Watchdog wants the California Department of Motor Vehicles to ban misleading ads that leave the dangerous – and sometimes fatal – impression that a car is more capable of driving itself than is actually the case.

The nonprofit group referred the DMV to its new video documenting how Tesla hyped its vehicles’ “Autopilot” feature, clearly leaving the false impression the cars were self-driving.

In a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson wrote:

“Tesla, with its promotion of its so-called ‘Autopilot’ feature, is a prime example of the deadly consequences of such unjustified hype. Chairman Elon Musk has repeatedly extolled the Tesla’s self-driving virtues to clearly leave the impression that the vehicle is autonomous."

“Two drivers who were misled by Tesla’s Autopilot hype, one in China and one in Florida, are dead after fatal crashes,” the letter continued. “Tesla’s response now, in direct contradiction to Musk’s ‘Look Mom, No Hands’ hype, has been that the drivers should have been paying attention and should have had their hands on the steering wheel.”

Too long to wait

DMV has a pending regulation that would provide that “a vehicle cannot be advertised as autonomous in California unless it meets the definition of ‘autonomous’ specified in Vehicle Code §38750 and the autonomous vehicle regulations,” but because the rule is part of a larger regulation package, it probably will not be enacted for at least a year.

Simpson's group says that's too long to wait. 

“Currently there is nothing to stop the sort of hype spouted by Elon Musk with its potentially deadly consequences,” Consumer Watchdog’s letter said. “DMV should extract the advertising regulatory language from the rest of the draft autonomous vehicle regulations and start a formal rule-making to enact that section immediately.”


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