By on July 12, 2016

2012 Tesla Model S

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has no plans to remove the Autopilot feature from his vehicles, despite demands from safety and consumer groups.

Musk told the Wall Street Journal that lack of education is the problem, not the technology behind the semi-autonomous driving system. The executive’s comments come after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration delivered a lengthy list of questions to Tesla as part of its investigation into the fatal May 7 crash of a Model S.

Autopilot is continually updated based on user feedback — a practice called “beta testing” that was criticized in this case, as the product is a system that can pilot a vehicle. The system could lead to overconfidence in its abilities, creating a dangerous situation for some drivers.

Musk told the WSJ that he wanted Autopilot in vehicles at an early point in its development, because “we knew we had a system that on balance would save lives.” In the wake of the May crash (which is partially blamed on the Autopilot failing to recognize and react to a transport truck) and a July 1 rollover, Musk plans to better educate owners.

A blog post on Tesla’s website will spell out how to properly operate Autopilot. “A lot of people don’t understand what it is and how you turn it on,” Musk told the WSJ.

As Musk talked Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did the same in a letter to Mathew Schwall, Tesla’s director of field performance engineering. The July 8 letter, acquired by the New York Times, throws a list of data-heavy demands at the automaker as the agency gets serious in its investigation.

Among other things, the NHTSA wants to know of all of the times Autopilot helped a driver avoid a collision via any of its automated functions (Autosteer, automatic emergency braking, and collision warning chime), as well as all of the complaints, suits and other actions by owners who claim Autopilot failed to stop one. It also wants to know of every modification or refinement made to the technology, and an explanation of how the system identified obstacles. Tesla will have to hand over its reconstruction of the fatal crash.

In short, the agency wants the entire operational history of the system in Tesla vehicles, and its development history, too. Depending on the request, the automaker has until July 29 or August 26 to hand over the data.

The national Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the May 7 crash.

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80 Comments on “Autopilot is Here to Stay, Says Musk, as NHTSA Delves Deeper into Fatal Crash...”


  • avatar

    Autopilot killed more people in highly publicized accidents than marijuana.

  • avatar
    yamahog

    Lmao I hope Tesla lets the feds choke on that request – give them all the data as massive CSV datastreams.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Lmao I hope Tesla lets the feds choke on that request – give them all the data as massive CSV datastreams.”

      yeah, no. If you read the actual letter- https://www.scribd.com/document/318112513/NHTSA-s-ODI-Opens-A-PE-On-Tesla – you see they specify more or less exactly how Tesla is to submit the requested data.

      Pulling a juvenile, a**holish stunt like you propose is just going to lead to Elon getting hauled in front of the Senate. And they’re not the type to be swayed by amusing tweets.

      plus, had you actually read this entire article, you’d have seen the part which read “Among other things, the NHTSA wants to know of all of the times Autopilot helped a driver avoid a collision via any of its automated functions (Autosteer, automatic emergency braking, and collision warning chime)”

      so, if Autopilot has been as safe and beneficial as Tesla claims it has, shouldn’t the data work in their favor? Why would they shoot themselves in the foot by just submitting an arcane data dump?

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      That would probably be about the worst possible thing Tesla can do.

      As VW is learning, the Feds (like everybody) don’t particularly enjoy being disrespected or toyed with, and they have a very large number of ways to make sure companies know it.

      (And I don’t see that they would necessarily find .CSV that intimidating; you are assuming that the NHTSA’s data folks have never heard of text processing. It would not exactly be the labors of Hercules to convert the data into an easily-processed format.)

      • 0 avatar
        yamahog

        Oh really? It would be worse than Elon Musk taking two pictures of his ding dong and taping them together into a continuous loop of Elon Ding Dong and putting the loop in the fax machine and sending about a million impressions of his member to them instead?

        It would be worse than Elon Musk challenging Lynch to a trial by combat?

        It would be worse than Tesla threatening to expose the real time location of government officials who drive Teslas?

        Save me the hyperbole and get an imagination.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          what the hell are you talking about? Tesla already has NHTSA and the SEC looking at them. Playing games with them at this point would be extremely ill-advised.

          Just ask Preston Tucker.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “I hope Tesla lets the feds choke on that request”

      I do business with the government. You couldn’t have made a worse suggestion.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Memo to Elon: As long as you make it possible for drivers to abdicate their driving responsibilities, they will do so, no matter how much you attempt to “educate” them.

    It’s going to take some changes to the system (i.e. abrupt, sharp, corrections for lane discipline, vs. smoothly keeping the car in the lane) to force drivers to pay attention.

    • 0 avatar
      CH1

      Musk doesn’t appear to understand that his tweets and statements only make things worse. For example, the stats he has been throwing out about Autopilot safety might fool the general public and many reporters; but to anyone familiar with accident statistics, including the regulators, they signify one of three things:

      Musk, and by extension Tesla, are clueless about traffic safety, trying to mislead, or both. Regardless of which option you choose, it means Musk and Tesla can’t be trusted.

      Beta testing software using ordinary drivers on public roads raised the eyebrows of traffic safety experts and regulators, from the outset. Then Tesla followed up with some blatant errors. I suspect the NHTSA and NTSB had been waiting for the first fatality to launch investigations.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Which pretty much resolves to: “As long as you build cars that makes it possible to crash, someone will find a way to crash them…..”

    • 0 avatar
      NickS

      Abrupt sharp corrections are not at all workable — the car should not be weaving in order to draw the driver’s attention. That’s externalizing the driver’s inattention into erratic driving (not done by the driver).

      They’d need to use tech that forces the driver to pay attention or lose speed and autonomous aids. Eye trackers in comb. with another sensing system would work quite well. There is a ton of improvements to be made here, but most will show up in future models.

      This is level 2 only.

      CH1 – completely agree. That stat of 1:130,000 mi. is meaningless. That was Tesla’s talking point, but as with any single number stat, it hides much more of what’s in the data. There is a lot more nuance there.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Just one question: Can Tesla Autopilot be combined with Pokemon Go through the Nav system?

  • avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    I will wait and see how the insurance industry classifies AutoPilot vehicles. When the litigation takes off, so will the premiums.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Well, the guy in the photo has *his* hand on the wheel…. that he can barely see over (o_O)

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Funny thing about Musk.

    He is OK about electronics beta testing which has almost NO personal risk. He is even OK about space vessel beta testing which is insanely dangerous, but everybody knows it.

    But, the commercial motor vehicle market is dominated by buyers concerned about safety. Will he get it right in time? Probably.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    I wonder if Musk is gonna refer to those who die trying out his new technology as martyrs?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Merely having a positive balance sheet of lives saved by Autopilot is NOT sufficient. Even Takata can claim that for their airbags.

    Also, the NHTSA may find itself rethinking its autonomous classifications.

    If consumers can’t (or won’t) distinguish between Levels 2, 3, and 4 autonomous capability, it may be moot to sell anything but a Level 4. And what mfr besides Volvo will be willing to sign up for that?

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I’m not sure I agree. If technology saves more lives than it costs, what is the objection? People have been strangled by seatbelts, which are required on all vehicles and of all passengers.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        If I saved three people from drowning but shot your mother, would you find something objectionable about that?

        • 0 avatar
          Chocolatedeath

          Pch, that was somewhat funny…

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          She has Stage 4 breast cancer. It would only be a matter of months, really.

          I’m trying to figure out a scenario in which you could save 3 people from drowning, but only by shooting my mother.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Negligence is negligence. An act of negligence is not offset by alleged good deeds elsewhere.

            The camera thought that the truck was an overhead sign. There is simply no justification for that.

            And I’m sorry about your mother.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Thanks, PCH,
            I know you are just joking around. If there’s a lesson, it’s to listen to your doctor when he recommends mammograms (or colonoscopies, or whatever).

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Non Sequitur.

          It’s not like if Elon is looking at miles driven in Teslas sans accident, and once that metric reaches a certain threshold, he then feels OK going out shooting someone. At least I hope he doesn’t feel that way.

          The fact that you build a car that may, just may, sometimes crash if the driver decides to watch movies, instead of paying attention to the road, while he is at the wheel, is a very different animal.

          Lots of cars have crashed due to driver inattention. Not just Teslas. Heck, I’d even go so far as to suspect a Tesla is one of the safer cars to be driving, if you absolutely have to watch movies while at the helm.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            The last time I took a taxi in NYC, the cabbie was watching a movie on his laptop in the passenger seat.

            How much does Tesla owe me? Is there a table like VW published for the diesel buyback?

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          pacificcoasthwy…you are killing me!
          just to damn funny.

          kinda a mafiosa philosophy the tesl true believers are running with here.

          since the dom has taken care of my grandmother and my family, it’s all good about the killings and extortions..

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        An undifferentiated macro view of everything, is rarely a very useful, and ever more rarely the most useful, way to look at the world. “A technology” in abstract, rarely either saves or takes lives. Instead, it can generally be used by individual actors to aid them in either, or none, of the two. So, there can still be an objection to certain uses of a technology, even if the technology itself has enabled saving more lives than it has enabled taking. Nuclear fission is a possible example.

    • 0 avatar
      yamahog

      What’s the kill/death ratio that’s acceptable?

      People manage to crash and/or die using regular set-a-speed cruise control and that’s just a connivence feature it can’t even prevent a collision, should we ban cruise control?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        It’s about negligence, not a ratio.

        Technology isn’t perfect. But if there is a significant design flaw, then the company gets to own it.

        If I shoot you in the face because I was mishandling a gun, I don’t get to use the fact that you were my first mistake as a defense in your lawsuit against me.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          ” lack of education is the problem, not the technology behind the semi-autonomous driving system”

          Just how educated do I have to be for my ABS to work?
          Or my side warning or rear warnings?

          How many lessons did it take me to learn the adaptive cruise control on my 2010 MKS?

          He’s a knucklehead. His massive ego has totally taken over his maniac board meetings. Who in hell will argue with him at the office anymore?

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Not sure about ABS, although I do remember Mercedes (In Germany at least), feeling they had to consonantly remind their customers to quit effing pumping their brakes in the slippery stuff, in the beginning.

            As regards 4/all wheel drive, OTOH……
            The number of yahoos who seemingly lack the “education” to realize awd doesn’t make the car magically stick to the roads in turns on snowy roads, is staggering.

  • avatar
    Steve Lynch

    Can you imagine if the head of any other automaker blamed the customer for an accident? The media and government would persecute him or her.

    Musk may be right in this case but right or wrong he always gets a pass.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I don’t see it that way. If a kid in a Camaro was playing Pokemon Go on his phone while speeding and crashed into a semi making an illegal turn, would you blame Mary Barra for his death?

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Isn’t that sort of what GM defenders were claiming when people had their engines switch off, their steering wheels seize up, and lost most of their braking effectiveness?

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          You do realize that most of these people were also not wearing their seatbelts, right?

          And that they were too clueless to try to turn the car back on again while driving? I used to practice this, since I drove old 1970s cars on which it wasn’t terribly uncommon for them to die while driving down the highway. Put transmission into neutral, attempt to restart car, put back into drive.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Thank you for making my point. What are the chances that the key ring weight overpowered the weak ignition cylinders when the car was in some sort of dynamic situation already, like going over a bump at high speed in a corner? This was a lot worse than make believe sudden acceleration, which many of us of certain generations were trained to deal with by turning the key back one notch, or knocking the car into neutral, or depressing the clutch, or the times we dug a toe under the gas pedal because of a stuck throttle. If you’re mid corner at speed and you lose steering and braking, that is something else entirely.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Nobody lost anything. They just had to apply more force to get the same result. It wouldn’t have been a problem if they weren’t already in the process of crashing while drunk and unbelted.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            General Motors has demonstrated that the failings of a driver do not justify GM’s equipment failure.

            Even drunk drivers deserve to have their airbags deploy and their ignitions to function properly. The driver’s condition is not an excuse for mechanical failure that is caused by the manufacturer.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            I’m not absolving GM of blame for their negligence. I’m just trying to tone down the hyperbole. If the drivers had been in control of their vehicles before the ignition was switched off, they would have remained in control of their vehicles after it happened.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          Steering wheels seize up? Where did you get that idea?

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Did these cars have steering column locks?

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            if you don’t know, then why did you make the claim?

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I’ve never seen it clarified, but I’ve seen a small driver struggle with a car whose power steering had failed just as if it had locked up.

            Do the effected cars have steering locks that engage when the ignitions switch themselves off? It does seem material. Maybe you should be interested in finding out instead of merely attacking my question.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I would suggest that you turn the key off while you’re driving and see what happens, except that’s a fairly dangerous thing to do so I can’t recommend it.

            At the very least, you would lose your power steering and power brakes. That is not the sort of thing that you want to have happen when attempting an emergency maneuver, particularly if you aren’t expecting it.

            If you pulled the key out of the ignition, then the anti-theft mechanism would cause the steering wheel to lock. I’m not sure if that happened with the GM ignition failures, but even if it didn’t, any unexpected cutoff of the ignition would be hazardous.

            A lot of the drivers who were involved in the ignition-related crashes were at fault for their crashes, but that didn’t absolve GM from offering a defective product. Even your lousy customers deserve something that works properly.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            The steering wheel will not lock just from turning the key. I’ve found that high speed steering feel often improves when typical over-boosted power steering is disabled by turning off the ignition. The best power steering systems offer easy steering at low speeds but provide very little assist at highway speed.

            At low speeds, it does require quite a bit of force to manually steer a vehicle with a rack designed for power assist. I could see how that could catch a person off guard momentarily and cause a low-speed incident.

            My buddy even drove his Dodge 2500 without power steering for a short time. It certainly required some strength to maneuver in parking lots, but was still easy enough to drive at speed.

            The brakes still function adequately with the engine off, and they will retain boost for at least the first stop. If that boost is used up during multiple braking applications, then stopping distances may increase but the braking will remain adequate for normal driving conditions.

            Again, I’m not absolving GM of their negligence. They should have dealt with the issue much sooner. I’m just arguing that losing ignition is rarely a serious event for anyone who is in control of their vehicle and driving in a safe manner. It is imaginable that there are situations where even a responsible driver could be adversely affected, resulting in serious consequences, by the engine dying. But that threat has always been present in my view, so I suppose I have trouble seeing it as a serious issue. I grew up in a time and environment where vehicular issues were commonplace and expected. All it takes is a minor fuel or ignition issue and the engine dies. Fuel filter issues, for example, were common in the days of steel tanks and lower quality fuel. I ran out of fuel a couple times in my younger days; once at highway speed. I’ve even experienced a couple failures that were far more serious than the ignition shutting off, including a tie-rod end failure and a brake master cylinder failure. The difference is that nobody expected to be saved from their own contributory negligence when it happened. It was assumed that some part of the vehicle could suddenly fail – particularly a tire – and you should drive in a manner that accounts for that possibility.

            Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shake my fist at some noisy crows outside.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Steve,

      Do you have an example of an automaker that has never blamed the customer for crashes? It’s standard operating procedure, surely based on advice from corporate counsel.

      It only backfires when automakers lose huge settlements in high-publicity jury trials. That’s not common enough to worry much about.

    • 0 avatar
      285exp

      In this case, it was not a matter of lack of education on the part of the driver, it was hubris. He was very familiar with the system, knew that it was not a true autonomous autopilot, and still he let it kill him. That truck had to have been making the turn for 5-10 seconds before impact to get as far down the intersecting road as he did, so the deceased gentleman had his eyes off the road for at least that long. He wasn’t on a controlled access highway where you can expect cars not to turn across oncoming traffic. Probably one of the biggest factors leading to his overconfidence in the system was that it helped prevent a previous accident, the one he posted so proudly on Youtube, so he overestimated its capabilities. As for Tesla, they have not promoted it to be autonomous, but they haven’t gone out of their way to emphasize that it’s not, and calling it Autopilot was an ill advised act of hubris on their part too.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Musk’s thin skin is going to get the better of him. Blaming your customers and having Twitter tantrums won’t do much to advance his cause.

    If autopilot’s apparent failures are indeed a result of poor consumer education as Musk states, you’d think top priority would be disengaging the autopilot feature remotely until Tesla owners/leasees have passed some type of boot camp for using that feature.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I’m not on Twitter, but I think Mr Musk does tweet too much. Silence can be golden.

      However, since Tesla is under constant scrutiny and attack – even fraudulently – I’m OK with maintaining a strong defense. Negligent misuse of a product doesn’t mean the manufacturer is liable.

      TTAC could have the same discussion about guns, cigarettes, or credit cards, as we are about Autopilot. All of these products come with warnings, and consumers *should* understand their risks.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Musk needs to realize that he can’t manhandle NHTSA in the manner that he did John Broder of the New York Times.

        NHTSA is industry friendly to a point, but only to a point.

  • avatar
    Ihatejalops

    Tesla Death Watch 1: The regulators cometh

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Any demise of Tesla will be due to a balance sheet problem, not regulators.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Debt levels look low to me, especially given the investments TSLA has been making in developing the Model 3 and preparing to manufacture it at scale.

        Can you be more specific about “balance sheet problem”?

        • 0 avatar
          Ihatejalops

          A company with not a lot of cash (it’s trying to push out a new vehicle) that receives a fine from the regulators can be crippling depending on the size of said fine; so it’s both a regulator issue plus a balance sheet issue.

          Cash is king and Tesla can’t touch 300 million of that cash (pre-orders). It’s also heavily in the red which, from what I understand, is not a good long term strategy. So yes, the regulators cometh, and it’s only part 1 with many more to go

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          Again this idea that day-to-day product development is some sort of “investment” that is unique to Tesla. You realize the kind of “investment” they’re doing in the Model 3 is something every single other automaker has been doing every single day for the past, I don’t know, 100+ years?

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            But at Tesla it’s being done by Geeniuses in monk robes and sandals.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            The difference is that Tesla is going from maybe 80K annual production to 500K annual production. Of course, new product introduction is normal in the auto industry. But show me another carmaker that is ramping up production by 6X in 2 years.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            ” But show me another carmaker that is ramping up production by 6X in 2 years.”

            all of them, since they all regularly introduce new or almost completely redesigned models.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            A company that generates consistent losses will eventually run out of money.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        However, since one of his skills is to manipulate his stock value by tweets and future announcement hints, this will effect the money.
        IMO, Tesla stock value is 110 percent over rated and manipulated. It is the Green Goddess of the future. It is supported by feelings and Holier than Thou goals and True Believers.

        The cool and hip brag about their cars and stock holdings at every yard cheese/wine tasting.

        This is a great deal more difficult to explain if the car is gaining reputations for killing.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “Lack of education”, aka we’re too stupid?

    Musk should have considered this when designing autopilot, yes we will misuse it and yes there will be deaths. I’m willing to bet that all Teslas have a “smart Autopilot” option that you can unlock for $9000.


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