A Fatal Crash Renews Concerns Over Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ Claim

Each the Nationwide Freeway Visitors Security Administration—the federal government company that oversees automotive security—and the Nationwide Transportation Security Board—an impartial company that investigates noteworthy incidents—have dispatched groups to Texas to review the crash. “We’re actively engaged with native regulation enforcement and Tesla to study extra concerning the particulars of the crash and can take applicable steps when we’ve extra data,” NHTSA mentioned in a press release. It’s going to possible be weeks, if not months, earlier than outcomes of an investigation are launched.

Nonetheless, the incident once more highlights the still-yawning hole between Tesla’s advertising of its expertise and its true capabilities, highlighted in in-car dialog packing containers and homeowners’ manuals.

There’s a small cottage trade of movies on platforms like YouTube and TikTok the place individuals attempt to “idiot” Autopilot into driving with out an attentive driver within the entrance seat; some movies present individuals “sleeping” within the again or behind the wheel. Tesla homeowners have even demonstrated that, as soon as the motive force’s seat belt is secured, somebody can immediate a automotive in Autopilot mode to travel for a few seconds with out anybody behind the wheel.

Tesla—and significantly Musk—have a combined historical past of public statements about Full Self-Driving and Autopilot. A Tesla on Autopilot points seen and audible warnings to drivers if its sensors don’t detect the strain of their arms on the wheel each 30 or so seconds, and it’ll come to a cease if it doesn’t sense arms for a minute. However throughout a 60 Minutes look in 2018, Musk sat behind the wheel of a shifting Mannequin 3, leaned again, and put his arms in his lap. “Now you’re not driving in any respect,” the anchor mentioned with shock.

This month, Musk informed the podcaster Joe Rogan, “I feel Autopilot’s getting adequate that you simply will not must drive more often than not until you actually need to.” The CEO has additionally repeatedly given optimistic assessments of his firm’s progress in autonomous driving. In 2019 he promised Tesla would have 1 million robotaxis on the highway by the top of 2020. However within the fall of 2020, firm representatives wrote to the California Department of Motor Vehicles to guarantee them that the Full Self-Driving will “stay largely unchanged sooner or later,” and that FSD will stay an “superior driver-assistance characteristic” somewhat than an autonomous one.

To date, FSD has solely been launched to 1,000 or so individuals of the corporate’s Beta testing program. “Nonetheless watch out, but it surely’s getting mature,” Musk tweeted final month to FSD Beta testers.

At the very least three individuals have died in deadly crashes involving Autopilot. After an investigation right into a deadly 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, the NTSB requested the federal authorities and Tesla to make sure that drivers can solely function Tesla’s automated security options in locations the place they’re protected. It additionally advisable Tesla set up a extra sturdy monitoring system, to ensure drivers are being attentive to the highway. Common Motors, for instance, will solely enable customers of its automated SuperCruise characteristic to function on pre-mapped roads. A driver-facing digicam additionally detects whether or not drivers’ eyes are pointing towards the highway.

A spokesperson for NHTSA says the company has opened investigations into 28 Tesla-related crash incidents.

Information launched by Tesla suggests the automobiles are safer than the typical US automotive. On Saturday, simply hours earlier than the deadly Texas crash, Musk tweeted that Teslas with Autopilot engaged are nearly 10 occasions much less prone to crash than the typical car, as measured by federal knowledge. However consultants level out that the comparability isn’t fairly apt. Autopilot is just supposed for use on highways, whereas the federal knowledge captures all types of driving situations. And Teslas are heavy, luxurious vehicles, which suggests they’re safer in a crash.

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