WASHINGTON — Tesla Inc.’s name for its trademark driver-assistance system lacks “common sense,” according to the country’s top transportation regulator.
Using the term Autopilot as a feature of its electric vehicles belies Tesla’s own requirement for drivers to keep both hands on the wheel, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday, adding that marketing language is not part of his department’s investigations.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a DOT agency, has opened probes into Autopilot’s role in collisions with other vehicles and sudden-braking incidents.
“I wouldn’t call something ‘Autopilot’ if the manual explicitly says that you have to have your hands on the wheel and the eyes on the road all the time,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Bloomberg News in Washington. “That’s not saying anything about the NHTSA scope of investigation, I’m just saying at a common sense level. I think that’s a concern.”
While the Department of Transportation chief doesn’t claim regulatory authority over naming conventions, another arm of the government does: the Justice Department. U.S. prosecutors have been looking into whether Tesla has made misleading statements about Autopilot’s capabilities, Bloomberg reported in October.
In addition to offering Autopilot as standard on new Tesla models, the company markets a driver-assistance system for city streets that it calls Full Self-Driving, which also requires a fully attentive driver and hands on the wheel. The company initiated a recall last month after regulators said its Full Self-Driving Beta system “may allow the vehicle to act unsafe around intersections,” including traveling straight while in turn-only lanes.
NHTSA opened the investigations into possible Autopilot defects in August 2021 and February 2022. The agency also has been assessing Tesla’s methods for monitoring drivers using Autopilot to ensure their engagement. Tesla’s website says that Autopilot features “require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”