Tesla Crash Raises Concerns Over Autopilot ADAS Feature

For the second time, the Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog have called for an investigation into electric car maker Tesla’s branding of its Autopilot feature, as well as the company’s claims concerning advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technology.

This new demand comes as another Tesla was involved in a crash when the Autopilot feature was engaged. This time, the accident involved a parked police vehicle in California.

The two groups called on the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to look into what they call “dangerously misleading, deceptive marketing practices and representations” concerning the Autopilot feature.

The complaint to the DMV comes one week after the public interest groups asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Tesla is in violation of federal law for these same marketing practices.

In a letter to California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, the groups accuse Tesla of misleading consumers into believing its vehicles’ Autopilot feature is safer and more capable than it is in reality.

“Tesla has repeatedly exaggerated the driverless capabilities of its Autopilot technology, putting profits ahead of its own customers’ safety,” Center for Auto Safety Executive Director Jason Levine wrote in a statement.

He added that the California DMV should step in and stop what he calls a dangerous practice before more Americans are injured or killed.

“Starting with the very name Autopilot, Tesla has consistently and deceptively over-hyped its technology,” Consumer Watchdog Privacy and Technology Project Director John Simpson, noted in a statement. “If responsibly marketed in a way that consumers could understand, Tesla’s technology could enhance safety. Instead, it’s killing people.”

So far two people have died in crashes involving Tesla cars that were engaged in Autopilot at the time of the accident.

A 2017 report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that over-reliance on — and a lack of understanding of — the Autopilot feature can lead to death.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously clarified to customers and the general public that Autopilot is designed as a driver assistance system that maintains a vehicle’s position in lane and adjusts the vehicle’s speed to match surrounding traffic, and is not a replacement for human control.

The calls from consumer watchdogs follow a AAA survey which found trust in self-driving vehicles is slipping following recent accidents — despite the fact that human error caused each crash.

To help prevent the accidental misuse of the systems, AAA advocates for a common nomenclature and classification system, and similar performance characteristics of future autonomous vehicle technologies.

In order to stand out from the competition, car makers — from Tesla and its Autopilot to Nissan and ProPilot — have marketed their ADAS features under specific brand names.

Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety and AAA fear this is causing confusion and — more dangerously — a false sense of confident among consumers of available self-driving technology.

“There are sometimes dozens of different marketing names for today’s safety systems,” Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations, noted in a May 22 statement. “Learning how to operate a vehicle equipped with semi-autonomous technology is challenging enough without having to decipher the equipment list and corresponding level of autonomy.”

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209.

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