Telsa Inc.’s self-driving Autopilot functionality has been found to have a new feature: fleeing from the law. Police in Germany were forced to give chase recently after a Model 3 refused to stop at a checkpoint.
The incident occurred on an Autobahn near Bamberg, Germany, when the police officers attempted to pull the Tesla over for a traffic check. Neither the driver nor the Tesla responded, with police then pursuing the vehicle while traveling at 110 kilometers an hour (68 miles per hour).
While the chase took place, officers attempted to stop the vehicle with repeated horns but with zero success. Some 15 minutes later, the driver eventually woke up and pulled the Tesla to the side of the road. According to a Dec. 29 statement from Bamberg traffic police, the driver showed druglike abnormalities during the checkup, along with a “so-called steering wheel weight” in the vehicle’s footwell. The driver had used the weight to trick Tesla’s safety system into believing that his hands were on the wheel.
The driver was subsequently charged with the criminal offense of endangering road traffic and was forced to give up his driver’s license pending a court hearing.
Fortunately, no one was injured in the chase, but it could have been far worse. In the U.S., for example, Autopilot has a strange tendency to crash into parked emergency vehicles, with a particular dislike for ambulances. As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration upgraded a probe into Autopilot in June.
The ability of Tesla to continue to call its self-driving car feature “Autopilot” is also under scrutiny. A German court banned Tesla from using certain terms in its advertising, including the use of the term Autopilot, in 2020. The court found that describing the feature as Autopilot gives people the impression that the technology can be used without human intervention.
The state of California was the next to follow, banning Tesla from describing its software as offering Full Self-Driving. Senate Bill 1398 takes effect in 2023 and although it restricts all vehicle manufacturers from making deceptive claims, it’s clearly targeting Tesla.
“A manufacturer or dealer shall not name any partial driving automation feature, or describe any partial driving automation feature in marketing materials, using language that implies or would otherwise lead a reasonable person to believe, that the feature allows the vehicle to function as an autonomous vehicle,” the law states.