Tesla’s AutoPilot Under Scrutiny

Technology featured in modern-day vehicles seems to advance every year. The company responsible for pushing the industry lately has been Tesla, and their advanced features. One of the most groundbreaking features offered by Tesla is an autopilot function. While this feature paves the way for self-driving cars, Tesla is seeing the backlash as drivers have been caught abusing or misusing the feature. 

Asleep @ The Wheel

Recently, more than a few Tesla owners have been caught asleep at the wheel, with autopilot mode on. At first glance, you may think “oh, well isn’t that what the feature is for?” but you’d be wrong. While it’s true the feature can maintain your vehicle’s trajectory and speed in the lane there are situations it can not cover.

The Cases

For example, as reported in Business Insider, a Tesla owner was driving with autopilot on and with hands off the wheel. This particular driver was behind another vehicle before that vehicle suddenly changed lanes revealing a stop in traffic. The autopilot was unable to process the sudden change quickly enough, and the driver ended up hitting a fire truck. The report said the driver had the feature engaged for over 13 min, with only 51 seconds of having a hand on the wheel. 

In 2 separate cases, also reported in business insider, people driving next to Tesla owners filmed them asleep at the wheel. For one of the cases, police had caught the driver asleep with autopilot engaged. In another case in California, a driver was going 70mph when Police noticed the driver was asleep in his Tesla and figured it was in autopilot. 

To Be, Or Not To Be

So, the question becomes is this feature what it says it is and is the feature good for us. Well, to start Tesla should change the term “autopilot” to “guidance control” or some other technical terms. Autopilot would suggest the vehicle can take itself to the destination without driver input, yet Tesla’s feature comes with an alert to keep a hand on the wheel. The term autopilot itself may be in an invitation to be negligent at the wheel.

The other question is this feature good for us, is subjective. Yes, the feature could make driving safer, and allow people to do other things while the vehicle is in motion. The problem becomes what will people do while in autopilot.

Well, as we have seen, people will take this opportunity to catch up on some Zs. It won’t be long before people mistakenly use this feature for other uses, such as drinking and driving. But the complications do not end there.

It’s Complicated

Autopilot can complicate auto-insurance claims. Let’s say you have autopilot engaged, your hands are off the wheel, and you are sleep or otherwise distracted. If another vehicle hits your vehicle, what will you tell your insurance agent? Tesla vehicles monitor when and how long you engage the autopilot and how long hands were on/off the steering wheel.

Take-Home Message

While Tesla is pushing the auto industry into the future, it may want to take a step back and fix a few things. Autopilot, in its true sense, would be a great feature if every car had it. Since very few vehicles have autopilot, it is a feature best left on the shelf, for now. People are abusing it and creating potentially dangerous situations on roadways. Instead, Tesla should think about remaining the feature and make it clear to drivers that this feature still requires their attention to the road. The term autopilot is too suggestive and inviting to the point that drivers take large risks for no reason.