California Driver Fails Road Test Because of Tesla's Automated Features
Oct 14, 2021 · 4 min read
Tesla’s automated driving features have been confounding insurance companies for several years now, but it seems like they’re not the only ones getting confused.
A recent story out of California tells of a 38-year old professor who took his Tesla to his local DMV to get his driver’s license.
Unfortunately, Tesla’s technology proved too much for the DMV examiner, who failed the man for some pretty tenuous reasons.
We’re not talking about Tesla’s Autopilot here, which does have some self-driving abilities, but a basic feature that is common to almost all electric vehicles.
Two road tests, two fails for the Tesla owner
Teslerati explains the man had extensive driving experience overseas, before moving to Santa Ana for a job with the University of California.
On arriving at the Santa Ana DMV, he was fairly confident of passing the road test and getting a California license, which would enable him to drive his Tesla Model 3 to and from work.
However, after pulling into the lot after what seemed like a fairly uneventful drive, the examiner said he had failed due to over-reliance on the Tesla’s drive assist technology.
Specifically, the examiner advised the Model 3’s steering should have been set to "Comfort Mode," and the acceleration set to "Chill Mode."
Why this wasn’t explained before they set out to take the test is anyone’s guess, but the professor was undeterred.
He opted to retake the test at the Los Angeles DMV, figuring they would be more accustomed to Teslas.
He figured wrong. This time he failed because of the Model 3’s regenerative braking, with the examiner complaining she could feel the brakes even when the pedal was not being pressed.
What is regenerative braking?
For those who don’t know (like the examiner), regenerative braking is a smart piece of engineering that turns your car’s kinetic energy into electricity, to charge its battery and boost efficiency.
The car’s electric motor runs in two directions, one to move the wheels, and the other to recharge the battery. When you disengage the accelerator and apply pressure to the brake, the motor swaps directions and starts to put energy back into the battery.
The thing is, as soon as you lift your foot off the accelerator, you can often feel the car start to slow down, and the brake lights might even come on, even if you don’t manually apply the brakes.
The professor was perplexed by this reasoning for his failed test, as regenerative braking is found in most electric vehicles.
According to the report, the manager of the DMV office acknowledged there is no way to disable regen braking, but he could not overrule the examiner’s decision.
He suggested the man rent a traditional gas car before taking the test for a third time.
Speak to the manager before taking your test
In response to a Teslerati inquiry, the California Public Affairs Office said there is no policy stopping customers from using a Tesla for their road test, and it is working to educate its examiners on modern features like regenerative braking.
Still, the agency says Tesla drivers should speak with a manager before setting out on a road test, to clear up any potential confusion.
This is not a particularly satisfying response.
Teslerati quotes John Swanton, a specialist from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), who points out that regenerative braking has been available since the early days of the hybrid Toyota Prius, almost 25 years ago.
Swanton goes on to say, "Their operation is not unlike the use of an automatic transmission...these are not autonomous features, but rather simply part of modern automobile controls. I think this complaint may be a situation with an individual examiner that DMV management will need to speak to or clarify policy."
The fact that all of this took place in California is particularly surprising. After all, California is home to the Tesla HQ, and has more electric vehicle owners than any other state.
And just down the road from the LA DMV, the Los Angeles Drivers Ed Direct uses an all-electric fleet for its students to learn in! Perhaps the examiner could benefit from a few lessons.