Can Tesla's New 'Summon' Feature Be Used Without New Laws?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on November 05, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Tesla has been on the leading edge of autonomous driver vehicles for some time now, though that has gone hand-in-hand with a few interesting lawsuits. Many car brands have some models with self-parking features, however Tesla is looking to launch an upgrade to its software for a new "summon" feature that would allow its cars to drive themselves with no one in the car.

The Current State of the Valet Market

Currently, numerous brands offer drivers the ability to press a button and let the car steer itself into a parking spot while the driver is in the car, though the driver may still have to operate the gas and brakes. Tesla has a different version of this valet feature, called Summon, which allows a driver to exit the vehicle and use an app to move the car up to 39 feet, forwards or backwards, in order to help, again, with tricky parking spaces. But with only being able to go backwards and forwards, the number of spots in which a driver uses it is limited, like pulling into your home's garage. In fact, that's about all it has been marketed to do by Tesla, who seems to encourage use only on private streets.

Many have seen the viral video of a Tesla owner, D Shawn Kennedy, using it on the public streets of Janeville, Wisconsin to move his car forward and back from his office in order to dodge the two-hour parking spaces he uses. Is this legal? In the state of Wisconsin, it falls into a pretty gray area, since the state has yet to propose any legislation on driverless cars. In the absence of illegality, is it legal? Kennedy may soon find out!

Tesla's New Summon Version Coming in Six Weeks

Tesla founder Elon Musk announced plans to offer an enhanced version of Summon in the next six weeks. An over-the-air software upgrade available on all cars made in the past two years with Autopilot hardware version 2 and higher, this version will drive the electric vehicle to your phone location all by itself. Totally driverless. 

usk, always one to give cheeky quotes, claims this allows the car to "follow you like a pet" as long as you hold down the Summon button on the Tesla app. He added, "Also, you'll be able to drive it from your phone remotely like a big RC [remote control] car if in line of sight." Is that legal?

Know the Laws in Your State

State laws dictate most driverless issues. Though there are federal guidelines, they are not laws. California, and a few other western states, is on the leading edge of driverless laws. As of April 2, 2018, California's Department of Motor Vehicles eliminated a requirement for autonomous vehicles to have a person in the driver's seat to take over in the event of an emergency. California has also given 50 companies a license to test self-driving vehicles in the state, but the cars must be able be operate remotely, and communicate with law enforcement and other drivers when something goes wrong. As Musk describes it, the new version of Summon seems to fit this requirement, and therefore will apparently be legal, at least in California.

If you or someone you love is in an automobile accident involving a car operating while in an autonomous mode, contact a car accident attorney. The laws in every state are rapidly changing, with respect to what is legal, and who is liable. A seasoned veteran will be on top of local laws and current trends, and will be able to offer you the best legal roadmap for your particular situation.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard