Consumer Reports Demands Tesla to Temporarily Deactivate Its Autopilot Feature

Active Autopilot 1 photo
Photo: Marc van der Chijs on Flickr
It looks like some parts of the media have had enough of Tesla's defensive position regarding its semi-autonomous features and are now demanding the company to do something palpable about it.
In an article named "Tesla's Autopilot: Too Much Autonomy Too Soon," the well-known magazine Consumer Reports addresses the newly created situation following the first fatal accident with the system activated, and Tesla's failure to change anything about it.

The magazine notes the discrepancies between the advertised capabilities of the Autopilot (which includes Autosteer and Auto Lane Change) and what it can actually do in the real world, as well as the conflicting messages the company sent out. For instance, the 2015 launch was accompanied by the "Your Autopilot has arrived" slogan, promising to relieve drivers of "the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel," while also stating that the driver was "still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car."

Tesla isn't the only manufacturer with access to this technology, and yet it is the first to take the risk and release it on the market. It certainly put Tesla in a leading position with all the data collected on the road, but it also exposed the company to a lot or critique. And with the recent fatal incident, that critique has just gained substantially more backing.

As shown by independent tests, Tesla's system is the only one that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel for long periods of time, which instantly makes it more dangerous by being prone to overly-relaxed drivers. Sure, Tesla warns its clients that they should be alert at all times, but when they're in the car and haven't touched the wheel for a few minutes, that's just a distant advice.

Another important problem is raised by the same article through the voice of Laura MacCleery, vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for Consumer Reports. “Consumers should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety 'beta' programs,” she says. “At the same time, regulators urgently need to step up their oversight of cars with these active safety features. NHTSA should insist on expert, independent third-party testing and certification for these features, and issue mandatory safety standards to ensure that they operate safely."

The magazine has come up with a list of four demands:

1). Disable Autosteer until it can be reprogrammed to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel

2). Stop referring to the system as “Autopilot” as it is misleading and potentially dangerous

3). Issue clearer guidance to owners on how the system should be used and its limitations

4). Test all safety-critical systems fully before public deployment; no more beta releases

Tesla's response came via e-mail and sounded like this: “Tesla is constantly introducing enhancements, proven over millions of miles of internal testing, to ensure that drivers supported by Autopilot remain safer than those operating without assistance. We will continue to develop, validate, and release those enhancements as the technology grows. While we appreciate well-meaning advice from any individual or group, we make our decisions on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by media.

That "real-world data" invoked by Tesla is the same figure that's been run through the press ever since the unfortunate event surfaced. Tesla says that its cars had driven 130 million miles before the first fatality was confirmed, which is statistically twice as much as what human-driven vehicles can brag about. However, if a similar accident were to happen soon, Tesla would lose this last argument it keeps bringing forward, and it would have to find another rhetoric.

For the time being, Tesla isn't backing up and remains convinced that releasing the Autopilot was the right decision. The only thing that could make it reconsider are the results of the NHTSA investigation. Whatever happens, the ice under Tesla's Autopilot feet is thinning at the moment. Whether it breaks or gets thicker again remains to be seen.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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