You may have seen news stories circulating about the legality of Tesla’s driving assistance software in Canada. As with any technological advance, there are countless rules and regulations that go along with it.
It is legal in Canada to use the Autopilot feature, as long as you are using it in accordance with the user manual. It requires an active driver. Tesla’s Full Self Driving feature is currently not allowed for use or civilian beta-testing in Canada.
The future of driving is fast upon consumers as increasingly autonomous cars are making their way onto the scene. Make sure you are up to date with the current laws in your area before participating in these features. Read on to learn all about the legality of Tesla’s Autopilot feature in Canada.
The Legality of Automated Vehicles in Canada
To understand what the laws surrounding Teslas with Autopilot functionality are, you must first understand the different classifications of vehicles with driving assistance software. Transport Canada classifies vehicles with these capabilities as “connected and automated vehicles.” Their graphic on levels of driving automation sets clear guidelines for classification into each of the five levels.
Currently, only vehicles classified as levels zero through three of automation are allowed to be purchased and operated in Canada.
- The highest level currently allowed is level three, “conditional automation.”
- Level three automation allows the vehicle’s driving assistance to perform most or all of the duties of active driving but requires the driver to be consistently prepared to operate the vehicle at any time in order to perform more challenging maneuvers.
- Tesla’s Autopilot is considered level three automation.
Levels four and five on this scale are not currently allowed in Canada. In certain places, though, the government has allowed testing of these more highly automated vehicles, as they have their sights set on the future.
Canada is very interested in electric vehicles in general, as they have a $5,000 rebate incentive on electric vehicles (Tesla even found a loophole to qualify for this). So, on the whole, they are looking forward to the technological advances that could incentivize even more people to switch. Currently, however, testing of these types of vehicles is restricted to a very limited assortment of companies.
Autopilot vs. Self-Driving vs. Autonomous
Most people do not refer to the five levels of automated driving when referring to these types of vehicles. Instead, there are lots of terms thrown around that you may have assumed mean the same thing. The differences can be tricky to spot, but they are important when it comes to understanding which programs are street-legal and which programs are not. These terms include:
Knowing what sets them apart is critical to understanding the laws associated with them. Often, manufacturers of vehicles (including Tesla) will label their products and pieces of software with these words, so it can be helpful when trying to understand what is allowed.
Autopilot refers to cars that are capable of anywhere from most to all driving tasks. They are usually required to be operated by a very active and alert driver, very much so still driving the vehicle. There can be few physical human inputs while operating the vehicle, but the driver must be actively aware of their surroundings.
This casual term could be the most linked to Transport Canada’s level three of driving automation, conditional automation. As such, a good rule of thumb is that cars with autopilot capabilities are allowed and legal on Canadian roads.
Tesla has an Autopilot feature that comes standard with their vehicles.
Self-driving vehicles are those that do not require the input of the human in command of the vehicle whatsoever. They are able to perform all activities that a typical driving experience would necessitate. These cars still require a driver in the front seat that is aware of everything going on and is able to step in when the optimal conditions are no longer met and the vehicle cannot operate safely.
This term would fit Transport Canada’s level four of driving automation, high automation. Self-Driving cars are currently not allowed to be purchased or tested by civilians on any Canadian roads.
Tesla is currently working on its fully self-driving vehicles. They are beta testing them in the US, but not in Canada.
Autonomous vehicles are the highest amount of automation. They are able to perform every single duty that a human driver would perform, including watching for anomalies in traffic and responding safely. They are designed to completely remove the need for human supervision or influence on the vehicle. These vehicles are currently very far from being approved for use and are only in the early stages of development.
Autonomous vehicles are classified under Transport Canada’s level five of driving automation, full automation. This level of automation does not exist yet and is therefore not legal in Canada.
The Legality of Tesla in Canada
Now that the classifications of automation in Canada have been defined, it makes more sense why Canada hesitates in opening up its roads to Tesla’s advancements in technology.
One must consider the legality of Teslas in the country as a whole and determine which functionalities are currently operating. Which of Tesla’s impending advancements will tie the company to Transport Canada’s five levels of driving automation?
When people think of automation in cars, they likely think about Tesla. It is a leader in this industry and has very ambitious goals when it comes to automation. The company plans to implement fully automated cars in the future, once they are proven to be a safer alternative to human-operated vehicles. It can be a little confusing to parse out the differences between the rules for use in the US versus in Canada.
- What is currently available for legal and regular use in Canada?
- What are the limits of technology that Tesla is able to provide and test in Canada?
- What are the Canadian experts doing?
- What is on the horizon for the company’s presence in Canada?
In order to accurately predict Tesla’s future in Canada, these questions will have to be answered.
This capability is what is currently and actively being operated in Canada by its citizens. It comes with every new Tesla sold. Since Tesla’s are legal to drive in Canada, the use of the Autopilot – strictly according to the user manual – is permitted within the country. Any use outside of what is described by the user manual is prohibited. This includes operating the vehicle as a driverless vehicle. Drivers must be alert and present.
Tesla’s Autopilot allows some automation with steering and acceleration. It is not able to perform all the tasks that a driver needs to perform during the operation of the vehicle. As stated previously, this puts it solidly at a level three or below on Transport Canada’s scale.
This means that current Teslas utilizing the Autopilot software are perfectly legal in Canada. So you can rest easy knowing that the huge investment that is a Tesla car will be safe and legal to operate in Canada. As always, Transport Canada offers really clear guidelines for determining if a vehicle is road-worthy. Also, with Tesla being the auto giant that it is, it will be relatively easy to know which models are legal in the country.
Legal Case in 2020
There was recently a case where a lack of adherence to the user manual got a driver into a dangerous situation at high speeds in Canada. This case made headlines, as it confirmed some fears of new technology being used in the public domain, and whether or not that was a safety concern.
In July 2020, a young man’s vehicle was seen traveling at 150 kilometers per hour without him visibly present in the front seat. His seat was completely reclined, and he was asleep while letting Tesla’s Autopilot system drive for him. He was charged with dangerous driving, in a case that is being called “unprecedented.” Ultimately, Tesla was not held liable, since the driver was not operating under the correct procedure.
This is an example of someone who did not adhere to the user manual of the Autopilot system. The system is not meant to be driven without human supervision or input. As such, legal action was brought against him. As long as drivers maintain human input and attention to the task at hand at all times while operating the vehicle, the use of Tesla’s automation system is legal and safe.
Regardless, this case is sure to raise some eyebrows about the safety of driver-assisted vehicles and if people can be trusted to operate them only within their limits. If more situations like this happen, it may be detrimental to future automation advances being greenlit not only by the government but in public opinion as well.
Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Feature
This is where the legality starts to get confusing – you must know that there are two very different instances where the term “Autopilot” is used within Tesla software. One instance is that of the previous section. This Autopilot functionality is perfectly legal for use in Canada.
The other use of the term pops up as a sub-feature of Tesla’s fully self-driving system. It is currently being tested in a select group of vehicles on US public roads. However, as of the date of this article, beta testing is not available to civilians for this feature in Canada. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has stated that it has been difficult to get this feature into Canadian cars, due to “differences between US and Canada traffic rules.”
Keep an eye out for news on this front, as Musk has been clearly making it a priority to gain allowance to beta test this feature in Canada. He gets asked about it often, as many people are interested in testing out the cutting edge technology, and continues to cite the traffic differences as the source for the delay.
What Canadian Officials Are Doing
In 2017, the Transport Minister of Canada test-drove a Tesla and had talks with the company in order to make sure that Canada was on track to stay up to date with the other North American markets.
Since then, Transport Canada has maintained a very active and up-to-date resource for information about the progress of automation testing in the country. They have allowed for certain types of testing with the most cutting edge technologies that Tesla has already introduced in the US
What Is Ahead for Automated Vehicles in Canada?
In 2016, Ontario announced a program that would work toward the goal of more automation in vehicles. In 2019, it updated its terms to announce that driverless vehicles would be allowed to be tested on public roads. Per the terms of this program, only some institutions are allowed access to this testing, and they must apply to Ontario’s AV Pilot Program.
These institutions include:
- Tech companies
- Researchers/educational institutions
The next step in Canada will be to get the complete suite of Tesla’s fully self-driving features into the hands of Canadian citizens for beta testing. Once the testing on the features is completed and the system is optimized, then it will need to be approved by Transport Canada before it will be widely available to all Canadian Tesla customers.
Depending on the number of new features added to this system, this may require the allowed level of automation in Canada to increase to level four, high automation. At this level, the driver is only required to monitor the vehicle, as it would be driving just as safely as the human counterpart would. This would be just one step away from driverless cars, a future that at one point in the not-so-distant past seemed alien.
It is well-known that Elon Musk has his sights set on a future with driverless cars. However, Tesla explicitly states that they will only be street-legal once they prove to be safer than human-operated vehicles. It is widely accepted that this process of updates, research, and development will take years or decades to accomplish, but pretty soon, you may be sharing the road with more computers than humans.
Tesla Operations in Canada vs. US
Being based in the US, Tesla is currently being pushed to American markets more quickly and more efficiently than in Canada. Because of the differences in governing bodies and the US’s strong affinity for cars, more features are available to American citizens. The research and development that goes into the production of these systems and pieces of software are based first on American roads and rules.
There are currently 19 Tesla stores in Canada, compared to 130 in the US, so the market is smaller, and there are fewer government initiatives to increase automation in Canada. Though steps have been taken, Canadian experts agree that full automation is decades away, which might come across as a lack of enthusiasm about fully automated vehicles in the future.
Because of all of these reasons, Tesla has had a slower burn in Canada. The beta testing of new systems is only offered to US citizens on US roads. So, it will take some time for those systems to be first allowed to be tested in Canada and then optimized before being released to the general public. This will probably happen after it is released in the US, in keeping with previous trends.
Other Competitors in Canada
Other competitors with Tesla offer some amount of driver assistance and automation. These manufacturers include:
These manufacturers are programming automation, but it is nowhere near the level that Tesla is pushing for. Many offer computerized assistance with staying in the lane and general awareness of surrounding traffic (smart cruise control).
The presence of these cars on Canadian roads, though not as cutting edge, are also helpful in pushing for a bigger market and demand for increasingly automatic vehicles in Canada. For those who are wary of self-driving cars, a lower degree of automation may be comfortable enough for them.
Another competitor that seemed to fall off the map is Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company. Waymo had plans to expand to Canada but currently only operates in a small area in Arizona. They have said that they are still researching and developing their product before it hits markets. Perhaps when they finally land in Canada, they will help with the overall wave of increased automation in vehicles.
Humans are at a turning point in automotive history. A vehicle that was once a simple machine has now become smarter than we ever could have ever imagined. Though Canada is slightly behind its neighbors to the south in driver automation and testing of those systems, the day will come when these technologies are available to all.
Tesla is going to be around for a while. This is a company with the longevity needed to survive the competitive auto industry. They have their eyes on lofty goals and fully intend to get there. There are going to be a lot of changes to Canadian roads in the coming years and beyond.