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Tesla's Autopilot passing feature enters legal grey area

by Justin King

By engaging the turning signal, the driver is still in control and liable for the consequences of the maneuver.

Tesla's 'Autopilot' passing feature is reportedly delving further into a legal grey area surrounding semi-autonomous driving technology.

Existing assistance features help a driver hold the lane, but only when their hands are still perceived to be on the wheel. As long as the driver is holding the wheel, they are essentially in control and liable for any consequences related to the steering input.

On the surface, Tesla's automatic-passing feature appears to step from assistance to brief autonomy. The company reportedly interprets manual engagement of the turning signal as human 'control' over the entire maneuver, however, according to unnamed sources cited in a Wall Street Journal report.

If drivers press the turning signal, they should have looked in the mirrors to determine if the move is safe. The vehicle's blind-spot monitoring systems will also assist with making such decisions, but the driver retains ultimate responsibility over the maneuver.

Tesla has claimed that the Model S is essentially capable of fully autonomous driving, but the company will continue to refine the technology and wait for regulations to catch up before introducing the technology to the public.

The company has not outlined a launch window for the semi-autonomous passing feature. The latest report suggests the capability will not be enabled in the upcoming software update, due this summer.