Tesla autopilot hardware and how it impacts compliance departments

Gilbert Carrillo
Executive Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2017


This past week, Tesla announced that all vehicles produced by the company, as of October 19, 2016, will have hardware needed for “full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver” (aka autopilot). Aside from the feasibility of the project, the impact on the compliance department remains a challenge as well.

This is the second upgrade by the company regarding their autopilot features. Last year, Tesla first announced the autopilot features would be made available to customers for a “public beta test”. The “public beta test” has not run as smoothly as hoped. While using the feature, numerous cars have crashed, resulting in the death of at least one Tesla user. Moreover, the autopilot features were originally touted as possessing the capability for the car to self-drive itself. Yet, Tesla has since backtracked on such expectations by stating their autopilot features were nothing more than an advanced driver-assist system. While the second upgrade to Tesla’s autopilot system is a step in the right direction for eventual fully autonomous driving, Tesla has led many consumers to expect Tesla’s autopilot system to be more than it is actually capable of.


While Tesla handles their ability (or lack thereof) to produce truly self-driving vehicles, there are regulatory guidelines that define different levels of autonomous driving. In 2013, the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defined 5 different levels of autonomous driving.

Currently, Tesla has claimed they will reach level 4 of autonomous driving by the year 2018. Level 4 is defined by the Department of Transportation to mean, “vehicles designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.”

While these are only guidelines, these levels are important in order to differentiate how technologically advanced a vehicle is. Additionally, the Department of Transportation had issued a federal policy last month for safe testing and deployment of automated vehicles.

These are just a few of the numerous guidelines and polices Tesla, and others in the automated vehicles industry, must comply with regarding attempts to create self-driving vehicles. With the continued push towards making self-driving vehicles a reality, compliance departments will need to address the mentioned guidelines and polices in addition to any future laws and regulations in the industry.

Tesla must be very clear and cautious about how they choose to promote their vehicles to the public. While that may be a primary focus of another department within the company, the compliance department will ultimately need to ensure Tesla is not in violation of any rules and regulations regarding misrepresentation.

Without clear policies and procedures, a mechanism for auditing and monitoring, and training and education, Tesla, like all companies regulated by complex laws, will be in danger of failing on all fronts related to self-driving vehicles. While the feasibility of self-driving vehicles is a primary concern, the compliance department has/will have a very tough task ahead of them. Only time will tell how successful and prepared Tesla will be in accomplishing this innovative task.