Is Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ Legal in Australia?

Is Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ Legal in Australia?

Teslas in the U.S. and Canada can now be signed up for the ‘full self-driving’ beta, allowing the vehicle to drive autonomously provided that there is a person in the driver’s seat ready to take control. So, is Tesla’s autonomous autopilot technology ready for Australia?

In August 2022, the California Department of Motor Vehicles said that Tesla was lying about its autopilot technology. That same month, this video of a Tesla ploughing through a child dummy went viral on Twitter. It’s not the first time that the safety of Tesla’s fully self-driving technology has been brought into question, but Tesla’s full self-driving technology has remained in the spotlight since then.

So, with all of this curious stuff surrounding the Tesla ‘full self-driving’ feature, is it legal in Australia? Well, kind of.

Image: Tesla

In 2018, Australian lawmakers gathered to discuss future legislation for self-driving vehicles. Right now, there are over 700 laws preventing self-driving vehicles from driving on Australian roads, but transport ministers from the states and territories came together to discuss new laws to allow the tech down under.

As the National Transport Commission outlines:

“Australia’s laws do not currently support the deployment of automated vehicles. Our laws are designed for vehicles with human drivers. A review in 2016 found more than 700 barriers to the deployment of automated vehicles in state, territory and Commonwealth laws. Automated vehicles are expected to deliver safety, productivity, mobility and environmental benefits. Without reforms, Australians will not be able to gain these benefits.”

Autonomous vehicles are still years away in Australia. At the moment, however, “autopilot” largely refers to driver assistance technology in cars, like lane-keeping and smart cruise control, available and allowed in Australian vehicles. Right now, the only state that explicitly allows driverless vehicles in Australia is South Australia, and it’s for trials of the tech.

As the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development outlines:

“Vehicles with automated features such as lane-keep assist and autonomous emergency braking are already commercially available in Australia. These features assist with driving, but a licensed human driver is still in control of the vehicle at all times.”

“Vehicles with higher levels of automation are not yet commercially available in Australia, although trials of these vehicles are currently underway both here and overseas. These more sophisticated vehicles – where an automated driving system is responsible for all aspects of driving – are not currently consistent with the requirement under current driving laws that a licenced human driver is in control of the vehicle.”

Tesla hasn’t taken its “full self-driving” autonomous vehicle technology outside of North America yet. This technology is currently in beta and may encounter legal issues when it comes to Australia, along with other markets.

If it comes to Australia, it may be considered alongside driver assistance technology, but it’s unlikely to be allowed in Australia without your hands on the wheel at all times, or without a person in the driver’s seat (like with other autopilot technologies).

In Australia, Tesla vehicles come with three choices of autopilot:

  • Autopilot (included): Traffic-aware cruise control and autosteering within marked lanes
  • Enhanced autopilot ($5,100 extra): Autopilot features, along with lane suggestions, road suggestions and turn signal automation. Automatic lane changing, parking, and car “summoning” (allowing you to move your car in and out of a tight space while not inside of it)
  • Full self-driving capability ($10,100 extra): Enhanced autopilot features, along with traffic light and stop sign control (currently in beta).

Although prospective Tesla buyers in Australia have the option of buying full self-driving capability, note that it doesn’t come with autosteering, which is currently in the testing phase in the U.S.. It might have lane assistance, but this is different from autosteering, a feature that follows the navigation system directions, currently listed as an “upcoming” feature on the Tesla website.

Image: Tesla

Is Tesla autopilot better than auto-driving in other cars?

Tesla may make headlines with its autopilot technology, but it’s not the only option in Australia. As we noted in our Polestar 2 and Kia EV6 reviews, these other cars have their own lane assistance and smart cruise control technologies, similar to the basic “autopilot” level of intelligence available in Teslas.

Functionally, the autopilot technology in all of these cars is quite similar, however, Tesla’s enhanced autopilot upgrade does add some extras unavailable in other cars. Keep in mind that autopilot is best for highway and freeway driving and that it’s not recommended to be used in other circumstances.

There are plenty of other cars with autopilot technology, and if you’re after your next car, it might be worth going for a test drive, to find the best one for you. I personally was more impressed with the Polestar 2’s autopilot technology than the Model Y’s, as the Model Y kept disabling itself for seemingly no reason during my review.

But as a general rule: don’t use autopilot when there’s a higher risk of an accident, such as on tight streets or in densely populated areas. Please drive safely.

This article has been updated since it was originally published.

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