Consumer Reports, a non-profit consumer rights group based in the United States, has urged Tesla to disable the automatic steering function on its Autopilot system.
The pressure from Consumer Reports follows two crashes that have occurred recently involving Teslas with the autopilot system activated. According to CR, Tesla overreached in terms of its own abilities with its “aggressive rollout of self-driving technology.”
Tesla has described its autopilot feature as “well-meaning advice,” stating that “We make our decisions on the basis of real-world data.”
“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,” continued Tesla in a statement. “We will continue to develop, validate, and release those enhancements as the technology grows.”
Tesla has compared its Autopilot feature to that used by pilots “when conditions are clear.”
“The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of the car,” Tesla explained. “This is enforced with onboard monitoring and alerts.”
The fatal crash that occurred in Florida last May has brought Tesla’s autopilot under intense scrutiny. The crash happened when Autopilot failed to recognize tractor that entered the path of 40-year-old Joshua Brown’s Model S.
According to Tesla, its autopilot mode failed to detect the trailer because it would not see the white side of the tractor given the backdrop of the brightly lit sky.
The National Highway Traffic Administration is currently investigating that and two other crashes involving Tesla and sent a written request to Tesla asking for information about Autopilot.
“In the long run, advanced active safety technologies in vehicles could make our roads safer,” posited Laura MacCleery, consumer policy vice-president at Consumer Reports.
“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.”
“These two messages- your vehicle can drive itself, but you may need to take over the controls at a moment’s notice- create potential for driver confusion. It also increases the possibility that drivers using Autopilot may not be engaged enough to react quickly to emergency situations,” CR stated on its website. CR went on to state that Tesla’s autopilot enabled too much autonomy, too soon.
According to Ms MacCleery, consumers “should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety ‘beta’ programs.” MacCleery went on to ask that regulators step up their oversight of cars with such autopilot features. “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 featuers, and issue mandatory safety standards to ensure that they operate safely.”