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Tesla’s communications with DMV over Full Self-Driving are released and they bring some confusion

Tesla’s communications with DMV over the release of its Full Self-Driving Beta have been released through a freedom of information request.

Some of the comments made by Tesla to the DMV are bringing some confusion to people, as they could be interpreted as contradicting what Tesla and Elon Musk are saying publicly.

We look into it below.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has an autonomous vehicle branch that attempts to supervise and regulate the many self-driving vehicle programs being developed and tested in California.

For the most part, Tesla has been trying to stay clear of the DMV and it doesn’t report many autonomous mileage under the definition of the organization.

Instead, the automaker claims to be testing its autonomous system on private roads in California and in public and private roads in other states that don’t have the same disclosure requirements as Tesla’s home state.

This becomes clear in the DMV’s yearly report of driver disengagements during autonomous mileage.

What is being released to the public through its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) pacakges are considered level 2 driver assist features that require driver supervision.

Now Plainsite, a website that focuses on making legal documents public through freedom of information requests, has received and released all the communications between the California DMV and Tesla regarding the latter’s Full Self-Driving Beta release.

Some of what Tesla is saying in its communications to the DMV are confusing people as it appears to contradict what Elon Musk has been saying, which is that Tesla’s FSD package will lead to a trully “full self-driving level 5 system” by the end of the year.

At the core of the controversy is a letter that Eric Williams, Tesla’s associate general counsel, sent to Miguel Acosta, chief of the autonomous vehicles branch at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, over some questions that the latter had about Tesla’s FSD Beta.

In the letter sent in December 2020, Tesla writes:

“While the current pilot version of City Streets is still in a validation and review stage, we expect the functionality to remain largely unchanged in a future, full release to the customer fleet. We are analyzing the data obtained in the pilot and using it to refine the feature’s operation and customer experience. We will continue to make refinements as necessary, and only after we are fully satisfied with performance, integrity, and safety will we release the feature to the customer fleet. That said, we do not expect significant enhancements in OEDR or other changes to the feature that would shift the responsibility for the entire DDT to the system. As such, a final release of City Streets will continue to be an SAE Level 2, advanced driver-assistance feature.”

Considering “City Street” is the last upcoming feature listed as part of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving package, Tesla naysayers are using the comment to claim that it means it will never get passed “level 2”:

Tesla’s associate general counsel continues in the very same letter:

“Please note that Tesla’s development of true autonomous features (SAE Levels 3+) will follow our iterative process (development, validation, early release, etc.) and any such features will not be released to the general public until we have fully validated them and received any required regulatory permits or approvals.”

Here are the communications by Tesla and the DMV in full:

[scribd id=497849556 key=key-nmTioLK8T6whInjSNJfU mode=scroll]

Electrek’s Take

While it’s obvious that this information is mainly being used by Tesla naysayers and shorts, I wouldn’t blame anyone for being confused by Tesla’s approach when it comes to “Full Self-Driving.”

The moment they decided to call the package “Full Self-Driving,” they invited that confusion.

But when you look into what is actually being said here, it’s not that confusing.

Tesla has been promising that people who purchase the FSD package will eventually receive a software update that will make their vehicle fully level 5 self-driving, meaning that the vehicle can drive itself without anyone in it, or if someone is in it, they don’t have any responsibility for driving the vehicle.

Where the responsibility lies is the main difference between level 2 and level 3 and higher.

Everything Tesla has released so far makes it clear that the responsibility is still with the driver and therefore, it is a level 2 system.

What seems to have people confused is that the “final release of City Streets” is going to continue being a level 2 system.

I assume that the confusion stems from Tesla listing the feature as the last “upcoming” one in the FSD package:

But Tesla has been changing those features all the time and it could easily decide to add a “level 5” feature that shifts responsibility to the system for a new version of the software that has been approved by regulators in your specific market.

What Tesla is actually releasing with “autosteer on city streets” is what Musk has previously been calling “full self-driving feature complete,” which again can understandably be a confusing term.

“Feature complete” means that with “city streets,” which enables driving through intersections and city street with Tesla’s Autopilot system, the FSD package would have all the features it needs to be full self-driving when combined with Autopilot on highway and “smart summon” in parking situations.

However, it isn’t truly full self-driving until the responsibility shifts to Tesla, and that won’t happen until the automaker gets more data, refines the system, and achieves a higher level of reliability that is demonstrable to regulators.

Musk indicated that it would happen with future versions of the software later this year.

We can argue about the chances of that actually happening, but I don’t see anything in those letters that are contradicting Tesla’s previously stated plan.

What I see is a company actively trying to avoid being regulated, which is business as usual, while having some confusing nomenclature.

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