Tesla said Monday that one of Autopilot’s features was active during the April 17 crash that killed two men in Spring, Texas. According to a CNN news report, police said neither of the men was in the driver’s seat at the time of the rash.
Autopilot is a suite of driver-assist features including traffic-aware cruise control and Autosteer. Traffic-aware cruise control matches the speed of the car to surrounding traffic while Autosteer helps in steering in clearly marked lanes.
Deadly Crash and Investigation
In Texas, the Tesla, which was a 2019 Model S, was traveling at a high rate of speed around a curve when it went off the road about 100 feet and hit a tree, officials said. One man was in the front passenger seat and another was seated in the rear. Police said that just minutes before the crash, the men’s wives watched them leave in the Tesla after they said they wanted to go for a drive and were talking about the vehicle’s Autopilot feature.
CNN reports that Tesla’s revelation may be at odds with the initial description of the crash from its CEO Elon Musk, who said two says after the crash that “data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled.” It’s unclear, however, if Musk was defining Autopilot in a way that was most beneficial to his company – by referring to the entire suite rather than the individual features that make up the suite.
Model S drivers can activate traffic-aware cruise control at the currently detected speed limit by pulling the Autopilot stalk on the steering wheel toward them. When they do that in quick succession a second time, the Autosteer system will activate. The Tesla that crashed in Texas did not have the Auto steer active, officials said. Some experts say one of the plausible explanations for the Texas crash could have been that the driver was confused and perhaps thought they had activated Autosteer.
Controversy Over Autopilot
Autopilot was first released by Tesla back in 2015. It has been a popular feature with Tesla drivers. It was also criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after two previous crashes. The NTSB called on Tesla in 2017 to develop better ways to make sure drivers were paying attention to the road. Consumer Reports has said that the name Autopilot in itself is dangerous because it gives consumers the idea that it might be fully autonomous when it is not.
Our auto defect attorneys have consistently maintained that driverless or semi-automated technology should not be made available until it is ready for real-time roadway conditions. Autopilot has essentially lulled drivers into a sense of false security leading them to believe it’s safe to let the vehicle cruise while on Autopilot and not really pay attention to the road.