Consumer Reports engineers have apparently managed to trick a Tesla Model Y so it could drive on Autopilot without anyone in the driver’s seat, a scenario that could prove extremely dangerous if it were repeated on public roadways. According to an article on Consumer Reports, over several trips made as part of this experiment, the Model Y automatically steered along painted lane lines, but the system did not send out a warning or indicate in any way that the driver’s seat was unoccupied.
How the Test Was Conducted
The engineers submitted their assessment saying that the Autopilot system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention, but it also could not tell if the driver was even present. They said Tesla is falling behind other automakers such as GM and Ford who have vehicle models with advanced driver assist systems that use technology to make sure the driver is paying attention to the road. This report comes as federal investigators are looking into the cause of a fatal crash in Texas in which a driverless Tesla Model S crashed into a tree killing both occupants.
Consumer Reports’ engineers took their 2020 Tesla Model Y on a test track with one person sitting in the rear seat and one in the driver seat on top of a buckled seatbelt. Autopilot will disengage if the driver’s seatbelt is unbuckled when the vehicle is in motion. One engineer then engaged Autopilot while the vehicle was in motion on the track and then set the speed dial to 0, which brought the car to a complete stop.
He then placed a small weighted chain on the steering wheel to simulate the weight of a driver’s hand and then slid over to the front passenger seat without opening any of the vehicle’s doors, because that would also disengage Autopilot. The car then drove up and down the half-mile lane of the track never noting that no one was in the driver’s seat and not noting that no one was touching the steering wheel.
The Need for Improvements
The results of this experiment are frightening, to say the least. While BMW, Ford, GM, Subaru and other automakers use camera-based systems that could track the driver’s eye movements or head position to make sure they’re looking at the road, Tesla vehicles don’t have such built-in safeguards, which are clearly necessary.
Our auto defect lawyers have long maintained that autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle makers should put safety before profits and the rush to get this technology out to consumers. Not doing their due diligence and a failure to put critical safeguards in these vehicles can prove catastrophic.