Care will be needed in future when describing autonomous car technology, warns VRA

Care will be needed in future when describing the capabilities of autonomous car technology for marketing purposes, the Vehicle Remarketing Association is warning.

The Law Commissions of England and Wales, and Scotland, have recently reported on the proposed legal framework surrounding the use of this technology, and their joint report includes firm recommendations on how different devices are described.

VRA legal counsel Jonathan Butler of Geldards, explained: “I suspect  the authors of the report have been troubled by some of the brand names attached to the kinds of driver assistance technology that can already be found on some cars, which perhaps give a misleading impression of the extent of their capabilities.

“Especially, we need to decide what the term ‘auto’ actually means because it obviously wasn’t lost on the Law Commissions that in July 2020, Tesla’s use of the term ‘Autopilot’ to describe its cars’ autonomous driving capabilities was labelled ‘misleading for consumers’ by a German court in Munich.

“Even equipped with the Autopilot software and the optional ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ package, Tesla models were found to be unable to complete a journey without human intervention, thus requiring drivers to still be alert.

“What the report makes clear is that this distinction between driver assistance and self-driving is crucial and that getting this wrong will inevitably compromise safety because of the potential for confusion on the part of the driver. Also, the problem is aggravated if marketing gives drivers the misleading impression that they do not need to monitor the road while driving in cases where technology is not sufficient to be called self-driving.”

Businesses will therefore need to adjust their practices because terms such as “self-drive”, “self-driving”, “drive itself”, “driverless” and “automated vehicle” may be attractive but are prone to misuse.

Jonathan said: “While all of this is not yet law, the remarketing sector does need to be aware – especially at the retail end of the used car market – about the likelihood that legislation is coming in the very near future.

“While there is little evidence that issues surrounding this technology are currently creating commonplace problems, there have definitely been instances when drivers appear to have been unaware of its limitations and accidents have occurred.”

Jonathan was speaking at the VRA’s New Thinking in Remarketing Technology webinar, which took place this week and looked at a range of different developments affecting the sector.

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