With 2023 right around the corner, states across the country will see new laws and regulations go on the books. In California, a new law will go into effect that bans Tesla from advertising their vehicles as “fully self-driving.” It’s a blanket law that affects every automaker looking to venture into the semi-automated driving technology space. It also applies to dealers and goes into effect on January 1.

California governor Gavin Newsom signed the legislation in September. It dictates that automakers must clearly describe the functions and limitations of any partial driving automation technology on the vehicle or added later through a software update. Tesla states on its website that its cars’ “Full Self-Driving” features require “active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.” The crux of the bill that could affect Tesla is:

“(b) 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, as defined in Section 38750, or otherwise has functionality not actually included in the feature. A violation of this subdivision shall be considered a misleading advertisement for the purposes of Section 11713.” 

California Senate Bill No. 1398

While California had existing laws that regulated truly autonomous vehicles – vehicles without physical controls or a human monitor. However, the law did not apply to the litany of crash-avoidance technologies like lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot assistance, and others. These technologies enhance the driving experience and make it safer, but they don’t make a car fully self-driving.

Claims of deceptive marketing have plagued Tesla for several years. Adding to the confusion are the various names automakers use for similar technologies and functions that aren’t always easy to decipher. Cars are more complex than ever, with massive amounts of new features that should be made clear to the buyer before they hit the road with the rest of us. Knowing a technology's limitations is vital to operate it safely.

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