Is NHTSA Getting Ready to Formally Investigate Tesla's Autopilot?
A Tesla electric car crashed into a tourist bus on a motorway in northern Germany. According to an Agence France Presse report, the driver told police that he has activated the car’s Autopilot system. The driver of the Tesla car was injured while the 29 people on board the Danish tour bus seemed unharmed. The 50-year-old driver’s car hit the bus at it changed lanes outside the town of Gudow.
Police said they are looking into why the Autopilot did not work to prevent the crash. A Tesla spokesperson however provided a contradictory statement saying they had spoken to the customer who confirmed that the Autopilot was working properly and that his use of Autopilot was not related to the accident. The semi-autonomous feature has been available in Tesla Model S electric cars since October 2015. It has come under global scrutiny after fatal crashes in China in January and in Florida in May.
How Autonomous is Autopilot?
The Florida case attracted the attention of a U.S. Senate Committee, which demanded a briefing on the Autopilot’s role in the accident. Consumer activists have called on the company and its CEO Elon Musk to disable the Autopilot feature until it is updated to detect whether or not the driver’s hands are on the steering wheel. Tesla has said that drivers should keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times regardless of Autopilot and should be ready to take over at any time.
Safety experts question marketing the feature as “Autopilot” saying it could be misleading considering that it’s not really an autonomous or even semi-autonomous feature if the driver has to keep his or her eye on it all the time. The driver in the most recent crash in Germany said he had not removed his hands from the wheel even as the Autopilot was engaged.
Too Many to Ignore
Tesla has consistently blamed drivers for most if not all of the crashes. They market the Autopilot features as semi-autonomous feature, which very likely lulls drivers into a sense of security that they can take their hands off the wheel. It is becoming increasingly clear that Tesla needs to build in safeguards before putting any more of these cars on the roadway. Tesla and other automakers need to stop putting profits before people and using consumers as guinea pigs to test out their new technologies.