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Tesla asked to rename Autopilot in Germany

Germany's transport authority believes the Autopilot name is encouraging drivers to take their attention away from the road.

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Tesla's Autopilot feature is designed to make driving easier, but not to replace the driver entirely.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Germany's transport minister asked Tesla on Sunday to rename the Autopilot feature on the company's vehicles.

In a letter to the company, minister Alexander Dobrindt expressed concern that the name of the feature is misleading and may encourage drivers to believe they don't need to pay attention to the road.

"It can be confirmed that a letter to Tesla exists with the request to no longer use the misleading term Autopilot for the driver assistance system of the car," a spokeswoman for the German federal motor transport authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt), told Reuters.

The letter to Tesla comes hot on the heels of warnings the authority sent to German Tesla owners last week, reminding them to pay attention when they are using Autopilot.

Autopilot is a driver-assistance aid that allows drivers maintain speeds and ensure they stay within the lines, which is particularly useful on highways and long-distance journeys. It is not the same as autonomous-driving technology, which is designed to let the driver take their hands off the wheel and their eyes of the road. That hasn't stopped many drivers acting like it is, though, and in some cases overestimating Autopilot's capabilities with fatal results.

The company has always been clear with customers that Autopilot still requires drivers to pay attention at all times, said a Tesla spokeswoman in a statement. It is a term that has been used in aerospace for decades, she added.

"Just as in an airplane, when used properly, Autopilot reduces driver workload and provides an added layer of safety when compared to purely manual driving," the statement said. "We have great faith in our German customers and are not aware of any who have misunderstood the meaning, but would be happy to conduct a survey to assess this."

The Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.