Is NHTSA Getting Ready to Formally Investigate Tesla's Autopilot?
A new study says, people overestimate what Tesla’s Autopilot can do, more so than any other driver-assist system out there today. According to a report on Phys.org, the study was done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) where the organization surveyed 2,005 drivers from October through November 2018. The name Autopilot was associated with the highest likelihood that drivers believed a behavior was safe while in operation, for every behavior measured, compared with other system names, the study said.
Dangerous Driver Behaviors
Survey participants were asked questions including whether they thought it was safe to take hands off the steering wheel, not have their feet near the pedals, look at scenery, talk on a mobile phone and so on. Of the drivers who were surveyed, 48 percent thought it would be safe to take their hands off the wheel while using Autopilot.
As for the other four systems, the survey’s participants were asked about, 33 percent felt that way about Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, 27 percent about BMW and Cadillac driver-assist features and 21 percent about Audi and Acura driver-assist systems. Tesla issued a rebuttal to this study saying the IIHS survey is not “representative of the perceptions of Tesla owners or people who have experience using Autopilot.”
Tesla’s statement said: “If IIHS is opposed to the name ‘Autopilot,’ presumably they are equally opposed to the name ‘Automobile.'” But IIHS pointed out that studies in 2016 and 2018 also showed similar results and that this current study only adds to that growing body of evidence that “Autopilot” is a misleading name for a semi-autonomous system.
The Controversy Involving “Autopilot”
IIHS is by no means the first to suggest a name change for Autopilot. Consumer Reports also called for it after a fatal crash in Florida in May 2016 when a Tesla driver was killed in a crash with a big rig. The Autopilot feature did not recognize the white side of a turning semi-truck on a bright day, which officials determined, caused the collision.
Tesla has always maintained that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel even if the vehicle is in Autopilot, and be ready to take over at a moment’s notice. But what IIHS, Consumer Reports and other safety advocates have argued, rightly so, is that the misleading name “Autopilot” lulls drivers into a false sense of security where they are more prone to drive while distracted, fatigued or even under the influence.
We’ve seen recent reports of drivers on Southern California freeways driving while sleeping on busy freeway. There is video footage of these incidents. Also, recently, police in Northern California arrested a man on suspicion of DUI after he appeared passed out while driving his Tesla. These are all horrific car accidents waiting to happen. You have to wonder why people are more comfortable dozing off or checking their phones when their vehicles are on Autopilot.