October 17, 2016 / 12:48 PM / 4 years ago

Dutch regulator weighs Tesla's use of 'Autopilot' name

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch agency that approved electric carmaker Tesla’s “Autopilot” driver assistance system for use throughout Europe said Monday it is considering what action to take, if any, on the name after several German organizations said it could be misleading.

People view a Tesla car during the Auto China 2016 in Beijing, China, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

“The RDW has no official opinion about the name Autopilot, as normally we only consider technical aspects and not names,” said spokesman Hans van Geenhuizen of the Dutch Road Traffic Service (RDW) in an email.

“This is new,” he said, referring to the possibility that the name of a driving technology itself could be relevant to a safety review.

On Sunday, Germany’s Transport Minister asked Tesla to stop advertising its electric vehicles as having an Autopilot function as this might suggest drivers’ attention is not needed.

Tesla said in response to that request that the term autopilot had been used in the aerospace industry for decades to describe a system operating in conjunction with a human driver, and the company had always made it clear to customers that the system required drivers to pay attention at all times.

Tesla’s Autopilot, introduced last October, helps drivers steer and stay in lane and is intended to assist - but not replace - drivers

The system has been the focus of intense scrutiny since a Tesla Model S driver was killed while using the technology in a May 7 collision with a truck in Florida.

Van Geenhuizen said RDW was considering the matter internally and would make its official position known - if it decides to issue one - on Tuesday.

In 2015, the RDW approved Tesla’s “Autopilot” feature for use throughout Europe. The agency’s possible concerns would only relate to the name and not to the system itself.

On Friday Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority KBA wrote to owners of Tesla cars, warning them that their vehicles could not be operated without their constant attention and that under traffic regulations they must remain alert.

But German consumer protection agency VZBV said on Monday the “Autopilot” system should not be on the roads.

“A letter to Tesla drivers urging them not to use the Autopilot is not sufficient. That shifts to consumers the responsibility for a failure that happened in the approval,” the vzbv said in an e-mailed statement.

Reporting by Toby Sterling and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Cynthia Osterman

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