Consumer Reports To Tesla: Disable ‘Autopilot’

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Washington — Consumer Reports is calling for Tesla to turn off its autopilot system after a series of crashes involving the company’s vehicles that were operating with their automated driving feature activated, including one crash that was fatal.

The consumer advocacy organization said Tesla should disable the automatic steering function in its Model S vehicles “until the company updates the function to confirm that the driver’s hands remain on the steering wheel at all times.”

The group said Tesla should also rename the autopilot feature to make clear to drivers that its Model S vehicles are not fully self-driving cars.

“By marketing their feature as ‘Autopilot,’ Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security,” Laura MacCleery, vice president of Consumer Policy and Mobilization for Consumer Reports. “ ‘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.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said he will not order the Autopilot feature to be turned off. The company says it disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgment that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.

“Every time that Autopilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to ‘Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time,’ ” Tesla said in a blog posting on June 30.

Consumer Reports is the latest safety advocacy group that is urging the federal government to pump the brakes on self-driving cars. It joins the Center For Auto Safety, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, Consumer Watchdog and Public Citizen, who said in a letter to President Barack Obama that the recent spate of crashes involving cars that were being operated with Tesla’s Autopilot system on shows the limits of self-driving technology.

“It is time to stop your administration’s undue haste to get autonomous vehicle technology to the road,” the groups wrote to Obama and other high-ranking transportation officials in his administration.

Consumer Reports’ MacCleery said Thursday that “consumers should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety ‘beta’ programs.”

The comments come as federal regulators prepare to unveil regulations for testing of fully automated cars this summer — and they follow what is believed to be the first death in a car engaged in a semi-autonomous driving feature.

Federal regulators say preliminary reports show the fatal Tesla crash happened when a semitrailer turned left in front of the car that was in Autopilot mode at a highway intersection on May 7. Florida police said the roof of the car struck the underside of the trailer and the car passed beneath. The driver was dead at the scene.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said in the June 30 blog posting.

The fatal crash is one of at least three high-profile accidents reportedly involving Autopilot, including a July 1 accident involving Oakland County resident and art gallery owner Albert Scaglione in his 2016 Tesla Model X.

Scaglione reportedly told police his 2016 Tesla Model X was in the driver-assist mode when it crashed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike — but the company insists there is no evidence the Autopilot contributed to the crash.

The other reported crash involving Autopilot occurred Saturday. The driver of a Tesla Model X SUV told local authorities the feature was active when the vehicle crashed into railing wires along the side of Montana State Highway 2 near Whitehall.

MacCleery said the Tesla accidents show “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 features, and issue mandatory safety standards to ensure that they operate safely,” she said.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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