Tesla autonomous mode legal in New Zealand? MoT's verdict

With special feature audio.

Early adopter Ian McCrae has set his Tesla Model S to auto mode several times since January as he's driven around Auckland – or should we say as his Tesla has driven itself around the city, even changing lanes by itself when its sensors spot a gap.

But is autopilot legal in this country?

NBR put the question to the NZTA, which in turn forwarded it to the Ministry of Transport. 

The MoT percolated on the issue for 24 hours, then general manager aviation and maritime Nick Brown responded that Mr McCrae is not breaking the law.

Mr Brown qualifies, "While the use of the Tesla autopilot feature is legal in New Zealand, all current New Zealand road rules regarding the safe operation of a vehicle must be complied with at all times.

"This includes obligations on the driver to remain alert – for example, being non-impaired and otherwise legally able to drive – and aware of their surroundings, and to make sure that the vehicle is otherwise complying with the law, for example, the legal speed limit."

Read more about Mr McCrae's sometimes nervewracking experiences with autopilot here.

The first known autopilot fatality is  being investigated by authorities in the US. Tesla has responded in part with statistics, saying Ohio man Joshua Brown's death after a collision with a white truck-trailer (which his Tesla failed to spot against bright sunlight) was the first in 130 million driven miles with autopilot enabled. That compares to an overall average of one fatality for every 90 million driven miles in the US, and one per 60 million miles worldwide.

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