Democratic U.S. Senator Ed Markey has asked Tesla to disable its Autopilot, a semi-autonomous driver-assist system until it installs new safeguards to prevent drivers from evading system limits that could let them fall asleep. According to a Reuters news report, Markey cited YouTube videos and media reports that suggested drivers could travel long distances without touching the steering wheel by using an object to defeat requirements that drivers should regularly touch the wheel even if they are literally asleep.
Tesla Autopilot Crashes
Markey cited a news report that said a driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel as a Tesla drove 14 miles on Autopilot. Other unconfirmed videos on social media also appear to show drivers dozing off behind the wheel of Tesla vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has assured Markey that they would be in touch with Tesla about this issue.
Tesla says drivers must keep their hands on the wheel at all times. But many owners post videos of themselves doing other tasks like reading or watching shows while behind the wheel when the Autopilot is engaged. Tesla has said it has made updates to Autopilot including adjusting the time intervals between hands-on warnings and the conditions under which they are activated.
A series of crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot has prompted federal investigations and criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which said the Autopilot’s design was a key factor in a January 2018 crash of a Model S into a parked firetruck on a Southern California freeway. The agency found that the system’s design allowed the driver to disengage from the task of driving and allowed him to take his hands off the wheel for 14 minutes. Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged during at least three deadly crashes in the United States, and two are still under investigation by NHTSA and NTSB.
Concerns Over Autopilot Safety
Our auto defect lawyers have raised a number of questions about the safety of Autopilot. While the name “Autopilot” suggests a feature that is autonomous, we all know that it is only a driver-assist feature and that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel and attention on the roadway at all times, and be ready to take over at a moment’s notice. However, the name “Autopilot” tends to lull drivers into a false sense of security.
As a result, we’ve seen footage of drivers asleep behind the wheel with the vehicle on Autopilot. We’ve seen drunk drivers getting behind the wheel. We’ve also seen videos on YouTube showing drivers relaxing or reading while their Tesla is on Autopilot. We agree that Tesla’s Autopilot needs drastic changes because it encourages dangerous behaviors among drivers. We agree with Senator Markey that Tesla should disable this feature until it can install safeguards to prevent such dangerous driver behavior.