If you have any interest in Tesla automobiles, you’ve probably seen the deluge of articles being written lately by numerous news outlets concerning Tesla’s Autopilot feature. This news report storm began when a driver in Florida was killed in May of this year, while driving a Model S with the Autopilot feature activated in his vehicle. In that accident, the victim’s vehicle hit a semi truck trailer that made a left turn in front of him.
If you haven’t heard of Tesla’s Autopilot, it is a driving aid the steers the vehicle and keeps it traveling within marked traffic lanes on the roadway. Autopilot will also modify its speed in relation to vehicles traveling ahead of it, traveling in the same direction. What Autopilot does not do is to drive the vehicle without the need of a human driver being in control of the vehicle.
Ever since Tesla introduced Autopilot, there have been a number of YouTube videos showing people driving Tesla automobiles with Autopilot engaged. The videos show the drivers doing anything but paying attention to the roadway in front of them. This is not how Autopilot was intended to be used.
In the case of the fatal accident in Florida, the accident investigation is still ongoing. However, I believe that, had the driver of that vehicle been paying attention to what was going on in front of him, he would have had adequate time to either stop or to make an evasive maneuver, thus avoiding the accident. Even though this investigation has not been completed, news outlets continue to report that the Autopilot feature caused the accident.
The latest news outlet to attack Tesla is Consumer Reports. They issued a news release today titled Consumer Reports Calls on Tesla to Disable and Update Auto Steering Function, Remove “Autopilot” Name. There has been only one fatality attributed to someone driving a Tesla automobile. Since Tesla Autopilot was introduced, Tesla vehicles have driven more than 130 million miles while using Autopilot. On average, there have been about 82 fatal accidents today in this country, if you consider the statistic that there were 29,989 fatal vehicle accidents in 2014. Yet, because of the fatality in the Tesla vehicle, Consumer Reports wants Tesla to disable everyone’s Autopilot, change it to require that you keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times, and they want the name “Autopilot” removed from the description of the driving convenience feature. Clearly, Consumer Reports has no clue as to what an autopilot does.
Commercial jet airliners all have a function that is called autopilot. Airline pilots use autopilot to maintain speed, altitude and heading of the aircraft without the need for the pilot to be touching the controls. One thing the aircraft autopilot does not do is relieve the pilot’s duty to continue paying attention to what is going on with the flight. Tesla’s Autopilot is no different. It is not designed to drive the vehicle without a human driver being in control. So, why should Consumer Reports suggest that the name Autopilot is not acceptable?
This is an example of news outlets reporting on technology that they do not understand. Earlier in the week, I watched the evening news broadcast from a network TV station in Seattle. Included in their news broadcast was a short report about the fatal Florida accident. Their report said that the accident was caused by a malfunction of the Autopilot. They were just reporting about something that they had received from another news outlet that was not factual. Unfortunately, it’s likely that many of their viewers didn’t know the report was not factual. Anyone who follows Consumer Reports could be similarly misled.