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Tesla reluctantly gave Full Self-Driving Beta demo to DMV and critics

Tesla reluctantly gave a Full Self-Driving Beta demonstration to the California DMV and some FSD critics that the automaker didn’t want present.

Lately, Tesla has been under pressure from the California DMV over its Autopilot and self-driving claims, which the agency believes could be deceptive.

Earlier this summer, Tesla and the DMV went back and forth about the Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta rollout and marketing around the Full Self-Driving Beta package. It came after the agency had been under some political pressure to force Tesla to report more data about its FSD program.

Over the years, Tesla has been criticized for how it advertises its Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). One of the main concerns has been the actual names of the systems: Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability. Some people believe that the names suggest that the systems are autonomous, even though they are only driver-assist systems.

Tesla has also been using this description to avoid having to report data like disengagement like other self-driving programs in California under the DMV’s jurisdiction.

Now we learn that this back and forth between the California DMV and Tesla has led to the automaker giving the DMV a Full Self-Driving Beta demo last week. Bloomberg reports:

The demo of the system Tesla markets as Full Self-Driving was held last week at the Sacramento headquarters of the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to emails Bloomberg viewed via a public records request. Also at the Oct. 26 event were the head of the Highway Patrol, a deputy secretary with the state transportation agency and three outside advisers for the DMV.

Before the event, Tesla tried to have the DMV exclude some advisers from the agency who were scheduled to attend the demonstration.

Jennifer Cohen, Tesla’s head of policy and business development in California, wrote in an email to Miguel Acosta, the DMV’s head of autonomous vehicles:

I question whether it is appropriate to include your consultants that have made negative public statements about Tesla. We have yet to receive any assurance that their bias does not influence DMV’s treatment of Tesla.

Acosta responded:

We appreciate Tesla’s continued assistance in providing information regarding the latest releases and expansion of the Full Self-Driving Beta program and features. Our consultants assist us with our ongoing examination of the technology available on California public roads.

Tesla apparently had particular issues with Steven Shladover, a transportation research engineer at the University of California at Berkeley, who previously called Tesla’s use of the term self-driving “very damaging,” and with Bryant Walker Smith, an affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, who has advocated, like many others, that the autonomous testing and reporting rules should apply to Tesla’s FSD Beta.  

Electrek’s Take

I am glad to see Tesla engaging with regulators on FSD. We need that if the program is to move toward a true self-driving system like Tesla has been promising since 2016.

However, I find it disappointing that Tesla didn’t want a few critics to attend. That shows weakness and a lack of confidence, in my opinion.

Elon Musk keeps saying that “you just have to try FSD Beta for yourself” to see how good it is – even though many have been unimpressed by the performance when compared to Tesla’s promises. Why not have those critics try it?

I think it’s another example of Musk’s, and now Tesla’s, feedback loop being broken. The automaker is scared of some critics when the demonstration should stand for itself.

And let’s be honest: There’s room for critics when it comes to Tesla’s approach to self-driving. We should keep in mind that the main goal of most people involved is to keep the roads safe. When the goal is safety, there should be room for people to criticize to see if your approach is the right path.

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