Drivers May Be Confused By Tesla's "Hands-Free" Autopilot Technology
Despite The Recent Fatality, The Model S Has Received 5-Star Crash Safety Ratings. All Other Reported Crashes (Autopilot Or Not), Have Left The Passengers With Minimal Injuries.
The publication believes that consumers are confused by Tesla's marketing of the technology, and wording and descriptions provided, which may cause false assumptions. Vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for Consumer Reports, Laura MacCleery explained:
"By marketing their feature as ‘Autopilot,’ Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security. In the long run, advanced active safety technologies in vehicles could make our roads safer. But today, we're deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology. 'Autopilot' can't actually drive the car, yet it allows consumers to have their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time. Tesla should disable automatic steering in its cars until it updates the program to verify that the driver's hands are on the wheel."
Tesla's hands-free Autopilot technology, as well as details regarding the accidents are being investigated by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NHTSA sent Tesla a letter asking for detailed Autopilot information, design, updates, and logs. Multiple other publications and organizations are also scrutinizing Tesla and its "beta" technology, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is concerned that Tesla may not have informed investors soon enough.
The Autopilot system uses sensors, radar, and multiple cameras to Autosteer and Auto Lane Change, meant to (in Tesla's words):
“Automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic . . . (and to) help the car avoid hazards and reduce the driver’s workload.”
These features are for use with the hands off of the steering wheel. Drivers are aware that the car will "drive itself" in certain situations and conditions. Tesla has publicized wording that concerns Consumer Reports and others:
“Your Autopilot has arrived.”
Promises to relieve drivers “of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel.”
Along with the advertising that may cause misunderstandings is wording that makes it very clear that the driver is still responsible and must be aware, engaged, and in control. Added to this, the system is not on unless the driver turns it on, and warnings are displayed in the vehicle upon activating Autopilot. The driver is reminded to place hands on the wheel and remain engaged.
Consumer Reports' concern lies largely in the fact that the messages are mixed. Drivers may be aware of such information but not react soon enough. While other semi-autonomous technology is being employed by many companies, Tesla's is the only of its kind that is marketed as "hands-free". MacCleery concludes that concise descriptions of the features must be provided with no exaggeration or marketing that lends itself to a sense of ultimate safety or a removal of responsibility:
“Consumers should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety 'beta' programs. 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."
Source: Consumer Reports