With so much in the news about Tesla, it’s easy to lose sight the company’s main claim to fame is self-driving, environmentally friendly cars.
Autopilot, Tesla’s renowned driver assist system, is heralded as a revolutionary way to commute and travel.
On March 1st, a Florida man collided into the side of a tractor-trailer truck while using Autopilot on his Tesla Model 3. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the video data from the vehicle and concluded no “executed evasive maneuvers” were made by the driver or the Autopilot system to avoid the crash.
According to the report, the driver of the Model 3 only had Autopilot engaged for ten seconds before the crash.
Tesla expressed their regret in a statement confirming the series of events leading up to the accident:
“We are deeply saddened by this accident, and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy,” a Tesla spokesperson said. “Tesla drivers have logged more than one billion miles with Autopilot engaged, and our data shows that, when used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance. For the past three quarters, we have released quarterly safety data directly from our vehicles, which demonstrates that.”
The accident is the fourth instance of a fatal crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot system since first being offered in 2014. Six accidents in total involving Autopilot have occurred since the first one in Handan, China in 2016 when a Model S killed a driver after also ramming into the side of a truck.
While there is no sufficient evidence available yet for who’s fault the accident is, there is plenty of legal scrutinies surrounding Autopilot and just how safe it is. Just last year, Telsa had to settle a class action lawsuit to drivers who implemented AutoPilot 2.0 into their vehicles on the claim that the system was “dangerously defective.”
Tesla and their polarizing CEO Elon Musk have claimed on several occasions the system is safe when operated properly. The company claims “nothing in our autopilot system conflicts with current regulations.”
Those regulations are referring to the limited language the NHTSA has in regards to autonomous vehicles. So far, Tesla’s fleet has always passed federal motor vehicle safety standards and met crash test safety standards.
Telsa also makes sure to tell consumers they have never removed the “pilot” from the driving equation and that the onus is still on the driver to be alert when riding in Autopilot mode.
“When there is a serious accident it is almost always, in fact maybe always, the case that it is an experienced user, and the issue is more one of complacency,” Musk said last year. “They get too used to it. That tends to be more of an issue. It’s not a lack of understanding of what Autopilot can do. It’s [drivers] thinking they know more about Autopilot than they do.”
Despite these accidents, Telsa intends to offer a full self-driving system in the future — a product which Musk himself claims will have “millions” of users by the end of 2020