Consumer Reports is calling on Tesla to disable automatic-steering capabilities in its electric vehicles and change the name Autopilot for its semi-autonomous driving technology.
The assessment comes after the NHTSA launched investigations into the crash of 40-year-old Ohio resident Joshua Brown, who was killed when his Tesla Model S with Autopilot activated slammed into a truck that was crossing his path laterally.
Tesla Autopilot comprises multiple systems (including Autosteer and Auto Lane Change) that use cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to, in Tesla’s words “automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic.” The company also claims the features “help the car avoid hazards and reduce the driver’s workload.”
But Consumer Reports says the name and marketing gives the drivers a false sense of security that the car can drive on its own without the driver’s full attention, even letting them take their hands off the wheel.
The magazine’s criticisms don’t touch on the car itself, only on the semi-autonomous driving software. Consumer Reports has, in the past, lauded the Tesla Model S as the best car it has ever tested.
“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 kept on the wheel,” Laura MacCleery, vice president of consumer policy for Consumer Reports, said in a Consumer Reports blog post.
Tesla has no plans to change it and says the driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.
Tesla said it is continually introducing fully tested improvements to make the Autopilot system safer than driving without it. These improvements are usually rolled out as “over-the-air” software updates that happen automatically.
“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,” Tesla said in a statement.
Tesla also defended the safety record of the system, writing that “130 million miles have been driven on Autopilot, with one confirmed fatality.” The company underscored that its beta software development process includes “significant internal validation.”
In the aftermath of the Autopilot fatality, other consumer organizations have begun calling for a general slow-down in the rollout of autonomous driving technologies.
In its blog post, Consumer Reports also called on regulators to take more control of these sorts of automated safety features.