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Published 29 July 2020
As competition between vehicle manufacturers gathers pace to bring to market ever more sophisticated driver assistance technologies, there is a very real risk that consumers will over-estimate the capabilities of and place undue reliance on such systems. For example, in 2017, a British man who was driving on the M1 motorway switched on the ‘Autopilot’ feature in his Tesla Model S and proceeded to climb into the passenger seat. The importance of educating consumers and explaining the fundamental difference between driver assistance and vehicle automation is of utmost importance. Any misunderstanding as to the capabilities and limitations of driver assistance technologies will not only result in serious incidents on the road, but risks undermining trust and confidence and, ultimately consumer uptake.
The need to ensure clear guidance was recently recognised by a regional German court in Munich which ruled that the claims made by Tesla in relation to its Autopilot driver assistance system are misleading. The court said that the use of the word "autopilot", together with other marketing material, was suggestive of the vehicle being capable of driving itself whereas, in fact, the technology still requires the driver to remain alert at all times.
Tesla was banned from repeating the claims which the court had determined to be misleading. The Wettbewerbszentrale fair competition group in Germany had objected to content on Tesla's website in July 2019 promising, "full potential for autonomous driving" including automatic driving on motorways. In addition, under a heading "by the end of the year" Tesla added that its vehicles would be able to recognise traffic lights and automatically stop and start driving in urban areas.
The court was also of the opinion that additional references, highlighting the need for the driver to actively monitor the road ahead and an additional statement by Tesla that automated driving is therefore not possible, were insufficient.
It remains to be seen whether Tesla appeals against the decision.
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