Consumer Watchdog Slams Elon Musk, Demands Tesla Pull the Plug on Autopilot

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
consumer watchdog slams elon musk demands tesla pull the plug on autopilot

America’s highest profile consumer advocacy group is calling out Tesla CEO Elon Musk for waiting a month to disclose the potential risk posed to owners by the company’s Autopilot technology.

In a letter to Musk, Consumer Watchdog demands that Tesla sideline its Autopilot system until it can be proven safe, criticizes the CEO for side-stepping blame in several crashes, and accuses him of putting the public at risk.

Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system is continually updated based on owner feedback. The company’s tradition of “beta testing” its products was called out by safety advocates after it was revealed on June 30 that Autopilot played a role in a fatal May 7 crash on a Florida highway.

For Consumer Watchdog, founded in 1985 with help from automobile safety advocate Ralph Nader, the details of the crash are proof of a dangerous Autopilot flaw.

“An autopilot whose sensors cannot distinguish between the side of a white truck and a bright sky simply is not ready to be deployed on public roads,” reads the letter, signed by president Jamie Court and two executives. “Tesla should immediately disable the autopilot feature on all your vehicles until it can be proven to be safe. At a minimum, autopilot must be disabled until the complete results of NHTSA’s investigation are released.”

Tesla’s admission of the crash coincided with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opening an investigation into the incident. Since then, the NHTSA launched another investigation into the July 1 rollover crash of a Model X in Pennsylvania. That vehicle was allegedly driving in Autopilot mode at the time.

The automaker claims it informed the NHTSA of the May 7 crash on May 16, and sent an investigator to examine the wreckage on May 18. The automaker’s investigation was completed during the final week of May.

In its letter to Musk, Consumer Watchdog mentions Tesla’s “inexplicable delay” in notifying owners of the crash, calling the month-long gap “inexcusable.” The group goes on to say that beta testing shouldn’t be used on products that could lead to fatal consequences for the user, and accuses Tesla of using its consumers as “guinea pigs.”

“You want to have it both ways with autopilot,” the letter reads. “On the one hand you extoll the supposed virtues of autopilot, creating the impression that, once engaged, it is self-sufficient. Your customers are lulled into believing their car is safe to be left to do the driving itself. On the other hand you walk back any promise of safety, saying autopilot is still in Beta mode and drivers must pay attention all the time.”

Statements made by Musk and the “Tesla Team” in the aftermath of the recent crashes and a rear-end collision last November amount to “victim blaming,” the group said. It demands that Autopilot only return when it can be proven safe, with a pledge from Tesla to be liable if any faults occur when the system is activated.

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  • Ixim Ixim on Jul 10, 2016

    Autopilot or no, if I see that truck possibly turning into my lane up ahead, I'm coasting with my foot over the brake, checking for possible escape routes regardless of who has the right of way. Would AP do that?

  • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Jul 11, 2016

    The month delay is because there was a funding drive going on. Tesla's lack of disclosure should be good for some SEC fines.

  • Dawn Maple They haven't even fixed the airbag issues and recalls completely, so why waste more time and money on another "safety feature" that removes choices from the driver? We would be safer getting in a car driven by Helen Keller. Oh wait with driver assist, all she has to do is find her car and turn it on.
  • Lorenzo I'm out. I'd never find it in the dark.
  • VoGhost Minivans don't sell well, and the market has been declining. And while the entire 'range anxiety' myth is mostly a big oil propaganda designed to scare the weak minded, minivans are often how families travel to grandma's house, so that will be a concern, unless VW can gain access to the Supercharger network. I could see 50K units at peak, declining to 25K/year after a couple of years, unless VW can price competitively with Tesla.
  • VoGhost Glad you're healthy, Tim
  • VoGhost 20 years ago, Sportage was the bottom of the barrel, a joke. Kia's come a long way.