Tesla: Autopilot Was Not Engaged In Pa. Crash

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Autopilot was not the cause of an accident involving a Southfield art gallery owner earlier this month in Pennsylvania, according to Tesla Motor Inc. CEO Elon Musk.

The head of the Palo Alto, California-based electric vehicle manufacturer tweeted Thursday afternoon that “Onboard vehicle logs show Autopilot was turned off” in Albert Scaglione’s 2016 Model X when it crashed and rolled over on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. “Moreover,” Musk tweeted, “crash would not have occurred if it was on.”

Scaglione, a 77-year-old Oakland County resident, reportedly told police the Model X was in Autopilot mode when it crashed around 5 p.m. July 1 — but the company has insisted since the beginning that there was no evidence the Autopilot contributed to the crash.

The comments from Musk come as Consumer Reports calls for the automaker to disable 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 Thursday that 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,” said 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’s Musk has said he will not order it 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 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, which 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 May 7 fatal crash happened when a semitrailer turned left in front of a Tesla Model S that was in Autopilot mode at a Florida highway intersection on May 7. 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.

Another reported crash involving Autopilot occurred Saturday. The driver of a Tesla Model X told local authorities the feature was active when the SUV hit 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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(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

Staff Writer Michael Wayland contributed.

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