The Great Self-driving Revolution Gets a Language Check

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Words have the power to inform or mislead. The descriptors “military grade” or “assault-style” did great things for public acceptance of a recent Canadian gun ban, prompting legions of voters to believe the government just banned once-legal, high-capacity machine guns. The reality was far different, of course.

In the automotive world, critics of the haphazard roll-out of certain advanced driving aids have long railed against the use of words like “autonomous,” “semi-autonomous,” and “self-driving” when referring to systems that most certainly are not fully autonomous. It seems the Associated Press agrees with their arguments.

It’s a win for clarity.

On Wednesday, the AP Stylebook (aka the writer’s bible) targeted these words, saying they do not apply to systems that still require a driver to be present.

Early proponents and purveyors of advanced driver-assist systems didn’t help public safety by overstating the abilities of such systems, leading to videos of boneheaded drivers taking naps in speeding Teslas. As we’ve seen, Tesla’s Autopilot suite does not always function as intended; several deaths and numerous non-fatal crashes can attest to that.

While automakers, chided by public safety groups, have more or less learned their lesson re: language, writers who spread word of the latest technologies to the masses have a role to play, too.

Yours truly is guilt of having used the term “semi-autonomous” in several instances. While technically accurate in a hazy sense, the inclusion of the word “autonomous” implies that the vehicle can operate completely independent of a driver for part of the time. As in, you could flip a switch and the vehicle does everything, from garage to destination, rather than handling, say, highway cruising duties while the driver maintains awareness of the road and remains ready to step in at any time. That’s what the current Level 2 vehicles on the road today offer; the former scenario remains the domain of pilot projects by the likes of Waymo and Cruise LLC and Uber Technologies.

“The term driverless should not be used unless there is no human backup driver. As of now, there are no autonomous vehicles for sale to the public, although many are being tested on public roads,” AP advised.

“Some vehicles have driver-assist systems that can perform tasks such as changing lanes, driving at low speeds, or keeping a safe distance from vehicles ahead of them, but they still need human supervision. These should be referred to as partially automated.” (Emphasis ours.)

“Avoid the term semi-autonomous because it implies that these systems can drive themselves. At present, human drivers must be ready to intervene at any time.”

Hopefully the new guidance is taken to heart by the more zealous among us.

[Image: General Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on May 28, 2020

    But Elon Musk will continue to bilk people by fraudulently promising them "Full Self-Driving."

    • Imagefont Imagefont on May 28, 2020

      And some people will continue to believe their Tesla’s can drive by themselves now and they’ll die while not looking at the road. You can’t fix stupid.

  • El scotto El scotto on May 28, 2020

    Imagine the chagrin of some people if Cadillac's (GM's) Super Cruise works better than Tesla's Autopilot. I-70? I-95? I hear you calling.

  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.
  • C-b65792653 I'm starting to wonder about Elon....again!!I see a parallel with Henry Ford who was the wealthiest industrialist at one time. Henry went off on a tangent with the peace ship for WWI, Ford TriMotor, invasive social engineering, etc. Once the economy went bad, the focus fell back to cars. Elon became one of the wealthiest industrialist in the 21st century. Then he went off with the space venture, boring holes in the ground venture, "X" (formerly Twitter), etc, etc, etc. Once Tesla hit a plateau and he realized his EVs were a commodity, he too is focused on his primary money making machine. Yet, I feel Elon is over reacting. Down sizing is the nature of the beast in the auto industry; you can't get around that. But hacking the Super Charger division is like cutting off your own leg. IIRC, GM and Ford were scheduled to sign on to the exclusive Tesla charging format. That would have doubled or tripled his charging opportunity. I wonder what those at the Renaissance Center and the Glass House are thinking now. As alluded to, there's blood in the water and other charging companies will fill the void. I believe other nations have standardized EV charging (EU & China). Elon had the chance to have his charging system as the default in North America. Now, he's dropped the ball. He's lost considerable influence on what the standardized format will eventually be. Tremendous opportunity lost. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
  • Lou_BC Mustang sedan? 4 doors? A quarterhorse?Ford nomenclature will become:F Series - Pickups Raptor - performance division Bronco - 4x4 SUV/CUVExplorer - police fleetsMustang- cars