Why is the Tesla survey of the DMV so slow?

It’s been a year since the California Department of Motor Vehicles opened an investigation into Tesla’s selling point for its Full Self-Driving feature, the $12,000 software package that allegedly allows a Tesla car to drive itself through city and neighborhood streets can.

It’s been nearly six months since the agency launched an investigation into safety issues surrounding fully autonomous driving, under pressure from the state Senate Transportation Committee.

What did this research reveal?

The DMV does not say that.

When could the results be public?

The DMV does not say that.

Why is this taking so long?

The DMV does not say that.

For Transportation Committee Chair Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), the no-answer days are over.

“Senator Gonzalez has made the DMV aware of their dissatisfaction with the lack of movement on this critical public safety issue,” the lawmakers’ media spokesman said in an email to The Times on Wednesday.

The senator asked the DMV for a timeline, but “the DMV has clarified that there is no timeline nor expected completion date for the investigation,” the email said.

Gonzalez is considering a legislative hearing on the issue. No hearing is currently scheduled, her office said, “but this may change as we continue to monitor the progress of the investigation.”

The DMV told The Times: “The review is ongoing and we will contact you when it is complete.”

The internet is full of videos about the unpredictable and dangerous behavior of fully self-driving cars. A May 12 Tesla crash in Newport Beach that killed the car’s three occupants and injured several construction workers is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in part to determine if Tesla was Autopilot or Full Self-Driving were activated shortly before or during the accident.

One of the DMV investigations examines whether Tesla is misleadingly marketing the robotic car feature by using the term Full Self-Driving Capability on its online order form and elsewhere on its website. Government regulations prevent automakers from using marketing language to imply a car can drive autonomously when it isn’t. This investigation was initiated in May 2021.

The DMV’s investigation into the issues raised by Gonzalez is entering its sixth month, with no end in sight. Gonzalez asked for the DMV’s “assessment of the FSD beta studies,” information on how the DMV will address the situation if they believe full self-driving is unsafe, and whether there is a risk to the public.

Last year, The Times asked for an interview with DMV boss Steve Gordon, a former Silicon Valley executive, but his media relations team declined each time. Gordon has also turned down similar requests from other media outlets. The Times asked to speak to Governor. Gavin Newsom or his appointee on why his government will not discuss the matter. The governor’s staff referred the question to the DMV.

Meanwhile, the crashes continue.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating 42 accidents involving robotic automated driving systems. Of these, 35 are Tesla vehicles and seven are from other automakers.

Tesla has been selling Full Self-Driving since 2016 with a growing list of features. In recent years, it has increased the number of people allowed to use its “beta” version. In Silicon Valley parlance, beta means a program that works but may contain bugs and is not yet ready for wide public release.

On YouTube, Tesla customers continue to test the technology on public roads post videos showing how he quickly crosses double yellow lines into oncoming traffic, doesn’t stop in front of semi-trucks that are turning, approaches metal posts and pedestrians and much more.

In compliance with DMV regulations, companies such as Waymo, Cruise, Argo, Motional and Zoox have deployed professionally trained test drivers as a safety back-up while testing their own autonomous driving systems. The companies report all accidents to the DMV and also report so-called “walkouts”, moments when the robotic system fails or is otherwise faced with a situation that requires human driver intervention.

Tesla’s exception to these regulations is a matter of definition analysis by the DMV. The agency has stated through public documents and earlier statements from its press department that Full Self-Driving is a driver assistance system and not an autonomous system.

The feature falls “outside the scope of DMV regulations for autonomous vehicles” because it requires a human operator, Gordon Gonzalez said in a five-page letter in January. He noted that DMV regulations only apply to fully autonomous cars, but said the agency will “reconsider” that stance.

In defending the stance against Gonzalez and others, DMV officials have cited advisory work being conducted on behalf of the agency by UC Berkeley’s California Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH) partners.

But Steven E. Shladover, a research engineer at PATH, said the group’s work with the DMV was purely technical and focused on the capability of automated systems.

“We are not legal experts,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was just a research support contract to provide technical advice on the side.”

Tesla has clarified that its “design intent” for fully autonomous driving is autonomous driving, Shladover said, and he believes the company’s use of the term is “very harmful to everyone.” [autonomous vehicle] industry because it will give the entire industry a black eye” given the unfinished “beta” status of its technology.

Shladover said he’d like to see more oversight at the state and national levels — and didn’t pull any punches. “That’s NHTSA’s job at the federal level,” he said. “I’d love to see NHTSA trample on them.”

Automated vehicle legal expert Bryant Walker Smith of the University of South Carolina has spoken and written extensively about the vague nature of DMV rules, which were written using language suitable for exploiting “linguistic loopholes”. “Tesla’s use of ‘FSD’ is, shall we say, very misleading,” he wrote in a December article for the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.

His article states that the Society of Automotive Engineers, whose definitions of vehicle autonomy are widely shared by regulators, states in official documents that “it is incorrect” to assume that a system is not autonomous because test vehicles require human drivers.

Smith notes that Elon Musk has often publicly stated that full autonomy for Tesla vehicles is imminent, so Full Self-Driving is being tested as a fully driverless system and should therefore fall under the same DMV regulations as all other companies.

Is the DMV closer to that position than it was five months ago?

The DMV does not say that.

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