The California Department of Motor Vehicles is “revising” its advice not to regulate Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta software. The news comes after numerous safety advocates and regulators have expressed concerns about the company’s willingness to allow its customers to test the Level 2 driving feature in public. (The news was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.)
The state’s DMV oversees the largest autonomous vehicle testing program in the country, with more than 60 companies allowed to use test vehicles on public roads. Only a handful are approved to drive fully autonomous vehicles without safety drivers at the wheel, and even fewer are approved to use vehicles for commercial purposes.
Unlike other autonomous vehicle testing companies in the state, Tesla uses its own customers, rather than trained safety drivers, to monitor the technology. Tesla owners will have to pay $12,000 for the FSD option, up $10,000 from last month. Tesla has 32 vehicles registered with the DMV, but routinely reports little or no miles driven in autonomous mode.
The DMV has stated in the past that Tesla’s FSD is not covered by the autonomous vehicle testing program, as it still requires a human driver to control the vehicle. But in a letter to state senator Lena Gonzalez, the agency now says it is “reviewing” that decision. (Gonzalez should not be confused with Lorena Gonzelez, a member of the California State Assembly, who ever tweeted, “F*ck Elon Musk.”)
In the letter, DMV director Steve Gordon said the agency previously concluded that FSD beta “was outside the scope of DMV regulations for autonomous vehicles,” but it recently informed Tesla that it would review that decision “after recent software updates.” updates, videos showing dangerous uses of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the opinions of other experts in the field.(NHTSA is currently investigating incidents where Tesla cars that use Autopilot have crashed) against parked emergency services.)
“If the feature’s capabilities meet the definition of an autonomous vehicle under California law and regulations, DMV will take steps to ensure Tesla operates under the appropriate autonomous vehicle licenses,” Gordon wrote.
Gordon further notes that the DMV has conducted several demonstrations of FSD beta and, after consulting experts at UC Berkeley, concluded that it was a Level 2 system. During a demo in November 2020, the RDW discovered that “[t]The vehicle could not safely complete the entire task of driving alone.”
Gordon also cites a letter from Tesla, in which the company drew up a list of “restrictions”… which includes being unable to recognize or respond to “static objects, road debris, emergency services, construction zones, major uncontrolled intersections, inclement weather, complicated vehicles in the train path and unmapped roads.’”
The DMV also “reviews” Tesla’s use of the term “Full Self-Driving” in its branding, which has been criticized by experts and government officials as misleading to customers.
Depending on where the DMV lands, Tesla could face a whole host of new regulatory headaches. Companies that test autonomous vehicles in California are required to report all vehicle accidents, no matter how minor, in addition to the frequency with which human drivers have been forced to take control of their autonomous vehicles (called a “disengagement”).
A spokesman for Senator Gonzalez said she was still reviewing the letter. A spokesperson for the RDW did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a spokesperson for Tesla, which dissolved its press department in 2019.