Lawmakers Question DMV on Tesla’s Comprehensive Self-Drive Test

Tesla is developing driverless cars on public roads in California using its own customers as test drivers and ignoring test report requirements – and, so far, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles was largely content to look away.

But as drivers participating in the “beta test” post videos of their cars making potentially disastrous mistakes, state lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the danger the DMV’s position poses to other drivers, pedestrians, pedestrians, and others. cyclists and scooters.

California Senate Transportation Committee chair Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) on Tuesday sent a letter to DMV director Steve Gordon to find out what’s going on between the agency and Tesla. The DMV has been the state’s primary autonomous driving regulator since the legislature gave it that power in 2012.

In the letter, Gonzalez cited the apparent poor performance of what Tesla calls the beta of full self-driving, a $ 10,000 option that gives owners advanced automated driving features and allows them to test autonomous technologies. peak on public roads. (Beta is a software term that describes a product that is not quite ready to be sold to the general public.)

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has repeatedly stated its intention to sell fully autonomous vehicles that owners can hire as robot taxis.

YouTube videos, the veracity of which has not been disputed by Tesla, have shown beta cars from FSD cross the double yellow lines and heading towards oncoming cars, not stopping for road construction barriers and cars crossing the street, and direction of metal poles and other common objects. One YouTuber described FSD’s errant leadership as a “assassination attempt. “After FSD pointed the Tesla at another car, the driver said that”FSD tried to assassinate us. ”

Gonzalez told Gordon in his letter that “I have seen a number of videos of Tesla vehicles running with FSD engaged where it appears serious driving errors were made and collisions were only avoided thanks to rapid action by the driver. “

She noted that she lacked beta safety data from FSD, but wrote that the DMV “has the knowledge to assess these situations,” and asked for answers to several questions:

  • “What is your assessment of the FSD beta trials?” “
  • “Is there a danger to the public? “
  • “If the DMV finds the beta unsafe, how does the DMV plan to resolve any potential issues?” “

The DMV said it was reviewing Gonzalez’s letter. Gordon has not spoken publicly about DMV regulations and self-driving cars, despite repeated requests from The Times for an interview for many months.

Gonzalez isn’t the only California decision maker concerned about Tesla and the DMV. State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) told The Times that on November 3, a Tesla Model Y equipped with the beta version of FSD crashed in his district. “I found it a bit annoying,” he said. According to a complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the car’s experimental robotic technology directed it to another vehicle.

“FSD’s beta mode did not work as expected,” Newman said. “Fortunately, no one was hurt. This goes into Tesla’s ad, something called “Complete Self-Drive” when it’s actually something else. This creates a high level of risk and puts people at risk.

Newman and other lawmakers wonder why the DMV treats Tesla any differently from the more than 50 other autonomous vehicle developers in California who adhere to DMV regulations requiring companies to report accidents and “disengages,” an event in which robotic technology takes full control of the vehicle to a qualified test driver.

Waymo, Zoox, Argo AI, Cruise, and Motional are some of the companies that meet the reporting requirements. They all use qualified test pilots, often two per vehicle. Unlike others, Tesla does not report accidents or commitments at the DMV.

Since this accident information is not reported to the DMV, it is unclear how the agency will be able to provide safety data to the Senate Transport Committee.

“It’s definitely a concern,” said Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose). “It is essential that the DMV take this next generation of motor vehicles incredibly seriously. “

Developers of driverless cars “have to provide data on crashes and other issues,” he said. “If Tesla isn’t, we need to find out why they aren’t or why the DMV doesn’t think they need them.”

DMV spokeswoman Anita Gore told The Times in a prepared statement that Tesla did not need to report FSD beta crashes because Tesla informed the agency that full autonomous driving is a system of ” level 2 “which requires the attention of the driver.

The level system was created as a guide for engineers by the Society of Automotive Engineers. SAE level 0 is not automation at all. Level 1 reflects a unique automation function, such as adaptive cruise control. Level 2 encompasses the autopilot function of Tesla and similar systems from Ford, GM and others that combine automatic steering and cruise control. Level 3 describes a system that allows a driver to let the robot fully drive the car, while still being ready to take over at any time.

Levels 4 and 5 describe fully self-driving cars, with level 4 cars requiring specific weather conditions or geographic areas, and level 5 being able to work anywhere a normal car can drive.

The levels were never intended to serve as legal definitions or to be encoded in law, said Phil Koopman, professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the world’s leading centers for vehicle research. driverless.

He also suggested that regulators study the full SAE document that describes the levels. It contains a line that Koopman calls crucial: “The level of a driving automation system functionality matches the production design intent of the functionality. “

In other words, if you test a car with the intention of turning it into a Level 4 robotaxi, then it is a Level 4 system, according to Koopman. “Intent is the key to categorizing the level of autonomy of Tesla Full Self-Driving,” he added.

Legislation that granted regulatory control of the DMV, written when driverless car technology was in the toddler stage, may need to be changed, Senator Newman said.

“The Legislative Assembly has an oversight responsibility,” he said. “Perhaps it is time for a competent committee or a joint hearing to look at where we are today.”

State Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) agrees: “If Tesla is truly operating within state law with this technology, then we will probably have to change the law to protect public safety.” .

No one has been killed or seriously injured by the wandering FSD beta technology, but Jennifer Homendy, head of the National Traffic Safety Board, the federal government’s accident investigator, said: “This shouldn’t require a fatality. for regulators and politicians to take action. ”On the deployment of Tesla’s FSD.

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