Consumer Reports wants Tesla to scrap Autopilot, for now.
The influential consumer review magazine said the recent fatal crash that reportedly was caused in part by the Autopilot feature on a Tesla Model S should give pause to the “company’s aggressive roll-out of self-driving technology.”
The report released Thursday said that the combination of untested technology and the aggressive marketing associated with the implementation of the technology has created an unsafe combination.
“Consumer Reports experts believe that 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,” said the report.
“It also increases the possibility that drivers using Autopilot may not be engaged enough to to react quickly to emergency situations. Many automakers are introducing this type of semi-autonomous technology into their vehicles at a rapid pace, but Tesla has been uniquely aggressive in its deployment. It is the only manufacturer that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel for significant periods of time, and the fatal crash has brought the potential risks into sharp relief.”
The report said that the technology, which allows the car to adjust speeds, change lanes, and do some steering itself while on the highway was not only allowing drivers to take their attention away from the road, but Consumer Reports said it had not been fully tested for all possible safety deficiencies before being implemented.
“Consumer Reports has owned three Teslas (2013 Model S 85, 2014 Model S P85D, and 2016 Model X 90D) and we’ve seen first-hand how such beta software is transmitted wirelessly into the cars,” said the report.
“When software in a desktop computer or handheld electronic device is labelled as “beta” — it typically means that functionality is not fully developed and is still being fine-tuned.”
The group had 4 recommendations for Tesla at this juncture regarding its Autopilot feature:
- Disable auto-steer until it has a system that requires drivers to have their hands on the wheel.
- Stop calling the system “Autopilot”
- Educate drivers on when and when not to use the system.
- “Test all safety-critical systems fully before public deployment; no more beta releases,” said the report.
Until these are done Laura MacCleery, vice president of Consumer Reports’ consumer policy and mobility division, said that Tesla should disable the function.
“In the long run, advanced active safety technologies in vehicles could make our roads safer,” she said in the report.
“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.”
In response to Consumer Reports, Tesla said that it was developing the technology but felt comfortable with its processes.
“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,” said in a statement to Consumer Reports.
“We will continue to develop, validate, and release those enhancements as the technology grows. While we appreciate well-meaning advice from any individual or group, we make our decisions on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by media.”
Until these changes are made and the safety of the Autopilot system is ensured, concluded the report, the Autopilot feature should be turned off.