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No more 'safe self-driving' in ads, says Japan auto group

Misleading carmakers warned to put drivers' eyes back on the road

TOKYO -- Automakers in Japan will have to dial back their pitches, as an industry group cracks down on advertising that misleads customers about the safety and reliability of automated driving technology.

The Automobile Fair Trade Council has laid down new rules on what ads can say and show. Since last fall, some vehicle makers have been airing ads considered to be problematic, showing drivers taking their hands off the wheel or their eyes off the road. The AFTC and others have received complaints that advertisers are promoting unsafe driving habits and misleading customers about whether automatic driving technology could fully drive a car on its own.

"By guarding customers from misleading advertising, we hope to prevent future accidents," said an AFTC official.

Self-driving technologies currently on the market are classified as level 2, "partial automation" under standards laid out by the Society of Automotive Engineers. In level 2, driver assistance systems can briefly steer the car or apply the brakes, but the rest is up to the human behind the wheel.

As such, the AFTC's new policy forbids shots of drivers taking their hands far off the wheel or looking away from the road. It also asks the automakers not include phrases such as "fully automated driving" or "safe automated driving" that may make drivers think they can leave everything to the car.

The guidelines spell out specific rules for advertising in all forms of media. It asks that ads devote a certain amount of time or space to messages reminding customers that automated driving technology has limits. It also requires that promotions for technology not yet on the market state clearly that what they show is in the testing stage.

The AFTC will ask violators to revise their advertising quickly, and will warn or publicly censure companies that do not comply. It says it will update its policies periodically as technology advances.

This May, an American driver died in a crash while using his Tesla Motors car's "autopilot" mode. This prompted Japan's transport ministry and the National Police Agency to direct industry groups to alert customers about safety. The AFTC says it will "continue making rules to prevent advertising exaggerations that could lead to accidents."


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