The United States’ National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) recently announced that a crash back in January 2018 was likely down to the design of Tesla’s Autopilot software, as well as driver error. The accident involved a Model S, which hit a parked firetruck on a highway in California. Luckily, nobody was injured during the collision but the NTSB has criticised Tesla because its Autopilot system allows drivers to become over-reliant which leads them to pay less attention.
The transcript released by the NTSB of an interview with the driver of the Tesla seems to reveal that the Autopilot brand name is misleading for customers. Robin Geoulla, the driver of the vehicle, speaking to Kenneth Bragg, Human Performance Investigator at the NTSB, explained that he thought the Autopilot name was confusing; he explained that it’s “a very good cruise control” system but by no means an autopilot.
The fact that there have been several fatalities while Autopilot was enabled appears to show that people are misunderstanding what it’s capable of.
According to the NTSB, Autopilot allowed Mr. Geoulla to keep his hands off the wheel for almost all of the 14-minute journey, during this time he claims he wasn’t using a mobile device but was simultaneously eating a bagel and drinking a coffee.
In the time since the crash, Tesla has published more updates for Autopilot which force drivers to hold the steering wheel more often. The company also reiterated that Tesla owners have driven billions of miles with Autopilot switched on and that “drivers using Autopilot remain safer than those operating without assistance.”
According to Mr. Geoulla, he had not read the manual that came with the vehicle explaining all of its features, instead, explaining that he’d had a demonstration by a Tesla technician who explained how to use the Autopilot system.
The NTSB is currently investigating several crashes involving Tesla vehicles. It has the power to make safety recommendations which it may issue for Tesla to incorporate into its vehicles. In addition to the NTSB, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the body that Tesla recently got in trouble with, is also investigating the car manufacturer. The NHTSA has the power to order a recall if it decides a product poses an unreasonable risk to safety.