It’s been a year since the California Department of Motor Vehicles began investigating Tesla’s commercial proposal for its full self-driving feature, a $12,000 software package that supposedly allows a Tesla vehicle to drive autonomously on city and surrounding streets.
It’s been nearly six months since the agency, under pressure from the State Senate Transportation Committee, began investigating safety issues related to full self-driving.
What did these investigations reveal?
The DMV won’t say.
When can the results be made public?
The DMV won’t say.
Why so long?
The DMV won’t say.
For Transportation Committee Chair Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), the time for no answers is over.
“Senator Gonzalez has communicated to the DMV her dissatisfaction with the lack of movement on this important public safety issue,” a spokesman for the MP said in an email to The Times Wednesday.
The senator asked the DMV for a timeline, but “the DMV has made it clear that there is no timeline or projected date for completion of the investigation,” the email said.
Gonzalez is considering holding hearings on the matter in the legislature. There are no hearings scheduled at this time, her office said, “but that could change as we continue to monitor the progress of the investigation.”
The DMV told The Times: “Verification is ongoing and we will contact you when it is complete.”
The Internet is filled with videos of erratic and dangerous behavior of cars operating in full self-driving mode. Tesla May 12 accident in Newport Beach The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a situation that killed three occupants of the vehicle and injured several construction workers.
One of the DMV investigations looks into whether Tesla is deceptively marketing a robotic car feature using the term “full self-driving capability” on the online order form and elsewhere on its website. State regulations prohibit automakers from using marketing language to imply that a car is capable of autonomous driving when it is not. This investigation was launched in May 2021.
The DMV investigation into the issues raised by Gonzalez is now in its sixth month with no end in sight. Gonzalez requested an “FSD Beta Test Evaluation” from the DMV for information on how the DMV would handle the situation if it deems full self-driving to be unsafe and whether there is a risk to the public.
For the past year, The Times has sought an interview with DMV head Steve Gordon, a former Silicon Valley executive, but his media relations team has refused each time. Gordon also turned down similar requests from other media outlets. The Times asked to speak to the governor. Gavin Newsom or his deputy on why his administration will not discuss this issue. The administration of the governor sent the question to the traffic police.
Meanwhile, the crashes continue.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating 42 accidents involving automated driving systems controlled by robots. Of these, 35 Tesla cars and seven cars from other manufacturers.
Tesla sells fully autonomous driving with growing list of features since 2016. In recent years, the number of people who are allowed to use its “beta” version has been increasing. In Silicon Valley parlance, beta means a program that works, but may contain bugs, and is not ready for wide public release.
On YouTube, Tesla customers testing the technology on public roads continue to post videos which show him swerving into oncoming traffic on double yellow lines, not stopping because of semi-trailers turning in front of vehicles, heading towards metal poles and pedestrians, and more.
Under DMV regulations, companies such as Waymo, Cruise, Argo, Motional and Zoox have used professionally trained test drivers as insurance when testing their own autonomous driving systems. Companies report all accidents to the DMV, and also report so-called “outages” when the robotic system fails or otherwise encounters a situation that requires human driver intervention.
Tesla’s exemption from these rules is a matter of parsing DMV definitions. The agency, through public documents and previous statements by its media relations department, has stated that full self-driving is a driver-assistance system and not an autonomous system.
The feature is “outside the DMV autonomous vehicle regulations” as it requires a human operator, Gordon told Gonzalez in a five-page letter in January. He noted that DMV regulations only apply to fully autonomous vehicles, but said the agency “Revisit” this position.
Defending the position to Gonzalez and others, DMV officials cited consulting work done on behalf of the agency by UC Berkeley’s Advanced Transportation Technology Partners, or PATH.
But Stephen E. Shladover, a research engineer at PATH, said the group’s work with DMV was purely technical, focused on the capabilities of the automated system.
“We are not legal experts,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was just a research support contract to provide technical advice along the way.”
Tesla has made it clear that its “design intent” for full self-driving is self-driving, Shladover said, and he believes the company’s use of the term is “very detrimental to everyone in the world.” [autonomous vehicle] industry because it will hit the entire industry,” given the unfinished “beta” state of its technology.
Schladover said he would like to see more oversight at the state and national level, and did not hold back. “This is the job of the NHTSA at the federal level,” he said. “I would like the NHTSA to trample them.”
Automated vehicle law expert Bryant Walker Smith of the University of South Carolina has spoken and written extensively about the vague nature of the DMV regulations, which are written using language that allows for a “linguistic loophole”. “Tesla’s use of the term ‘FSD’ is, shall we say, misleading.” He wrote in a December article by the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.
His article notes that the Society of Automotive Engineers, whose definitions of vehicle autonomy are widely used by regulators, state in official documents that it is “incorrect” to assume that the system is not autonomous because human drivers are required to test vehicles.
Smith notes that Elon Musk has often stated publicly that full autonomy is inevitable for Tesla vehicles, which is why Full Self-Driving is being tested as a fully unmanned system and therefore should be subject to the same DMV rules as all other companies.
Is the DMV closer to this position than it was five months ago?
The DMV won’t say.