Car Industry

Tesla to buyers: No autonomous ridesharing for 'revenue purposes'

Well, that's nice and vague, isn't it?

You want to do this with a friend in the car? Fine. But with a fare in the car? No can do.

Tesla

If you want to buy into Tesla's new self-driving system, you'll need to shell out $3,000 while placing your order, or $4,000 after the fact. If you want to make some of that money back by, say, becoming a ridesharing driver, Tesla says you're out of luck.

When you go to spec a Model S or Model X with the "Full Self-Driving Capability" option, there's an odd bit of disclaimer text below it: "Please note also that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year."

Tesla has not yet returned my request for clarification, but my take on this somewhat vague text is thus: Tesla does not want you to use its self-driving system while operating as a ridesharing driver. You can use it with some other people in the car -- because who wouldn't want to freak their mom out with this stuff -- but if you want to make a profit, you can't use it.

My assumption is that this boils down to liability. There's no legal precedent regarding fault when it comes to collisions involving self-driving cars. If your Tesla was driving itself while you were taking Uber fares around, and you get into a crash that harms the occupant, goodness only knows what kind of legal hullaballoo would result.

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Would Tesla be to blame for a failure of the system? Would the driver be at fault for not closely monitoring the system, despite promises of complete autonomy? Does "self-driving Tesla" actually refer to the whole car, and not just the system, thereby preventing new Model S or Model X owners from participating in any kind of ridesharing scheme?

In all likelihood, the text is a legal CYA move that allows Tesla to waive any potential post-crash liability. A very expensive lawyer would show up to court, present that above text as evidence, shrug, leave and subsequently ask for $1 million in legal fees. Again, Tesla hasn't expounded on that text at all, so it's hard to know for sure.

Nevertheless, the text did highlight one other interesting thing -- the Tesla Network. Tesla's reportedly had a car-sharing scheme of its own in the works, and this sure sounds like it, although we won't know more until next year. If that is the case, using self-driving systems under Tesla's employ is probably much easier to figure out, in regards to any legal matters stemming from a potential crash.

Here's lookin' at you, kid -- unless you're on the clock with Uber, in which case, you're on your own.

Tesla