Consumer Reports Says Tesla Should Disable Autopilot Until Software Changes are Made
Consumer Reports magazine has now chimed in on the Tesla Autopilot controversy. The reputed magazine is saying that Tesla should disable its Autopilot feature until it changes the software to require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. This criticism of Tesla from Consumer Reports comes after two recent crashes including a fatal car accident in Florida in which the driver was operating a Tesla S model with the Autopilot feature enabled. The Autopilot is Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving system.
Concerns about Autopilot
Consumer Reports’ concerns about Tesla’s Autopilot system are legitimate. As the magazine’s vice president says, Autopilot can’t actually drive the car, but it allows consumers to take their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time. This is what makes it extremely dangerous because it lulls drivers into a false sense of safety where there is none. As the magazine recommends, Tesla should disable the automatic steering in its cars until it updates the program to verify that the driver’s hands are on the wheel.
The Tesla owner’s manual does not say that the driver must keep his or her hands on the steering wheel. In fact, it says that the system will work without the driver touching the steering wheel at all for long periods. However, when the horrific crash in Florida occurred, the automaker backpedaled and warned consumers that they should be prepared to take over the steering wheel at a moment’s notice and that the Autopilot is only an “assist” feature. As Consumer Reports correctly points out, Tesla’s naming of the system as “Autopilot” is in fact misleading because it implies that the system has more competency and control than it actually does.
There are other brands of vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Infiniti that have steering technology similar to Tesla’s Autopilot, but those manufacturers still require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel almost all of the time. If the driver takes hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds, the system will stop working. That’s what Tesla needs to do with its vehicles.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the meantime has launched a detailed probe of Tesla’s Autopilot feature looking into how it has functioned so far. We hope the federal regulatory agency insists on expert, independent third-party testing and certification for these features and also issues mandatory safety standards to ensure that they do operate safely. The two Tesla crashes are huge red flags for autonomous vehicle technology that must not be ignored. This type of technology must be thoroughly tested before being put in the market.