By on April 27, 2021

Last week, we reported about a crash in the Houston area involving a Tesla Model S – a wreck in which authorities claim there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the impact.

It’s unclear if the car was equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot autonomous-driving system, and it’s also unclear if the authorities’ claim has been verified (The Verge reports someone may have been in the driver’s seat after all). Still, there has since been debate over whether it’s even possible for Autopilot to be defeated in such a way that someone could leave the driver’s seat.

Consumer Reports did what it does – it tested a Tesla with Autopilot to see if it was defeatable. The car used was a Model Y, but the system is the same, and CR found that yes, indeed, one could defeat Autopilot’s safeties – the ones that are meant to make sure the driver’s seat is occupied.

In a sane world, the reaction would be something like this: “We don’t know if Autopilot’s safeties were defeated in this incident – we don’t even know if this car had Autopilot – but it is theoretically possible and Tesla needs to fix that issue.”

We don’t live in a sane world. Especially when it comes to Tesla. At least not if what happens on Twitter is even remotely representative.

As usual, Tesla stans came out of the woodwork to attack CR’s Jake Fisher and otherwise defend the company. As if nothing could ever, ever be Tesla’s fault.

Again, to be absolutely clear, we don’t know if Autopilot had anything to do with this crash. And Consumer Reports made it clear that they were only showing that it was possible to defeat Autopilot, and not suggesting that Autopilot, or an attempt to defeat Autopilot, was any way involved in the Texas crash.

But once again, the Telsa cult struck on Twitter. Because their favorite brand can do no wrong in their eyes. And because Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, can be a bit of a troll.

Put aside what happened in Texas – if CR’s testing holds true for all Teslas, it’s a safety loophole that needs to be fixed. Perhaps with cameras that monitor driver-eye movement, but our own Matt Posky points out that there are data-privacy issues at play, and when other automakers call out Tesla, they have their own self-interest in mind.

Regardless, Consumer Reports was simply performing one of the purposes of journalism – to hold companies and people to account. In this case, that means testing for a safety problem, finding one, and reporting on it. I wish more auto-journalism outlets had the resources to do that sort of testing, as it would help ferret out more issues across the industry.

Yet, Tesla fans take anything that reflects on the brand negatively as a personal attack. It’s not just random fans online – Teslarati ran an opinion piece taking CR to task for doing what journalists are supposed to do.

A piece that is a masterclass in bad faith. Teslarati’s Simon Alvarez argues that what CR did in the process of its testing would be illegal on a private road – and while that’s true, CR was using a private test track because it wouldn’t want to break laws or be unsafe during this kind of test.

Never mind that people can and do break laws – and may have in Texas. Alvarez then claims that what CR did wasn’t as “easy” as the article claimed and then follows with a disingenuous argument that presupposes any determined person could trick any driver-assist system.

To which we say, “no shit, Sherlock”. And way to deliberately miss the point. CR wasn’t trying to argue that other driver-assist systems are foolproof, just that Tesla’s system was more easily tricked than others they’ve tested. By the way, the “you didn’t test the others!” argument was also leveled at CR, but Fisher clarified on Twitter that his outlet has tested competing systems. This argument is also disingenuous, as CR ran this test because of the hoopla surrounding the possibility of Autopilot’s safeties being involved in the Houston crash.

https://twitter.com/MrNeffels/status/1386074972259487746

Our boy Simon then goes even harder for the bad-faith gold by claiming that well, of course just anyone could put a brick on the gas pedal of a car without an autonomous system! Never mind that the criticism is being specifically leveled at a flaw in Tesla’s system and the old brick-on-the-gas canard is a distraction from the actual discussion.

Finally, Alvarez is just wrong about how easy it was to trick the system. I read the CR piece. It didn’t seem to take much effort. Then he decides to blame “tribalism” for criticism of Tesla. As if Tesla critics just hate Tesla for being a competitor of other car companies instead of having fair, reasonable, well-thought-out critiques. He even tries to suggest that some Telsa fans don’t have blind devotion to Telsa and Musk – which goes against all available evidence.

There’s more whataboutism and deflection throughout his piece – which, to be fair, is an opinion post and not presented as objective news – but we’ve already spent enough time fisking it. Plus, it speaks to a larger point.

It’s been this way for years now, but it still blows my mind that Tesla gets this kind of reflexive defense any time it is criticized for anything. Let’s say it had been GM or Ford that had the issue. I can’t imagine even the most ardent fan of either company’s brands hopping on Twitter and looking for any way to excuse them for not finding and fixing a loophole that could compromise safety. In fact, the companies would be pilloried, and rightly so.

I did see one auto writer post in a private Facebook group that in his opinion, our society has failed to teach media consumers – i.e. just about everyone – that the media is supposed to report the truth, and sometimes that truth will paint a person/company/sports team/political party/political policy they support in a bad light. So, when journalists present true and accurate information that challenges their worldview, they do whatever they can to dismiss that new info, from calling the media “biased” or “fake” to coming up with unlikely exculpatory scenarios regarding the truth in order to excuse the person/thing they support from culpability and accountability.

Now, to be clear, dismissing challenging info out of hand isn’t the same as having an intellectually honest rebuttal or an actual exculpatory explanation – and again, the Texas crash might not have involved Autopilot, so in this case, there actually may be an exculpatory explanation.

In fact, the difference between handwaving and a reasonable counterargument can be difficult to tell apart. But sometimes it’s pretty clear when motivated reasoning is at play, and while it’s obviously anecdotal, some of what I saw on Twitter over the past 4-5 days is clearly rooted in disbelief that Tesla can do any wrong.

And it’s frustrating. Because when it comes to autonomous driving, lives are at stake. If Tesla fans were willing to be more critical of the company – as critical as neutral observers often are – perhaps Tesla bosses would be a bit quicker to make changes.

To be fair, Fisher pointed out on Twitter that Tesla did make changes to one of its models after Consumer Reports was critical, and I understand why Tesla boss Elon Musk would try to argue that perhaps Autopilot wasn’t in use in the Texas incident. After all, a huge part of Musk’s job is to sell the car-buying public on the benefits of Autopilot, so he can sell more Teslas, which come standard with Autopilot.

That said, the best way for Musk to approach this would be to have some humility – and to acknowledge the flaw CR pointed out and fix it, regardless of whether or not Autopilot had anything to do with the wreck in the Lone Star state.

More importantly, Tesla fans need to understand that all automakers are fallible, and all make mistakes regarding safety. Sometimes they even cover it up (see: GM ignition interlock). Occasional malfeasance aside, most of the time most car companies work to correct design and engineering flaws that could compromise safety. And they don’t sic their fans on the media and/or government agencies that discover the flaws.

Let me get ahead of some of the comments I expect to receive by reminding you that I don’t hate Tesla or Musk. Nor is the company living “rent-free” in my head, which is an accusation that’s been tossed my way before. Indeed, it’s my job to pay attention to these things, think about them, and sometimes write about them – so I get paid for this.

I’m not here to pick on Tesla. I would write the same post if GM fans were reacting on Twitter in a similar manner after a crash involving SuperCruise.

That said, it’s dangerous to see Tesla fans, Musk, and some Tesla cheerleaders in the press defending the company when it’s clear there is a problem – a problem that could, in theory, cost lives. Instead of reflexive defensiveness that deflects criticism, I’d like to see the company be humble and quick to fix its problems. And I’d like to see its legions of fans understand that when outlets like CR point out these kinds of flaws, it’s not to target the company unfairly or because of some anti-Tesla agenda, but to hold it accountable and hopefully force it to build a safer product.

Someday, maybe, our discourse will be sane again. Until then, we’ll be here, telling you the truth, whether you (or Tesla fanatics) like it or not.

[Images: Tesla, Twitter]

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51 Comments on “Tesla Stans Can’t Handle the Truth...”


  • avatar
    mcs

    “That said, the best way for Musk to approach this would be to have some humility – and to acknowledge the flaw CR pointed out and fix it,”

    Not one mention of the fact that the FCC just approved Tesla’s new monitoring system that’s probably better than what GM currently has. So while I’m not sure whether they’d actually admit the flaw, they certainly seem to have recognized it some time ago and apparently have had a fix in the works. Who knows when the fix will go into production, but it sounds much more difficult to defeat than supercruise or autopilot’s current system. I think other makers have versions of the same system on the way.

  • avatar
    mpalczew

    I don’t get it. Is the problem that someone is able to do something really stupid with their car. It seems like bypassing autopilot requires rather deliberate actions. I can plow my car into a tree on purpose too. I can also jerry rig my microwave to operate with the door open and defeat the safety mechanism. I frequently un child proof my lighters, and I still haven’t burned my house down.

    A breathalizer interlock on every car would save far more lives than making the autopilot safety features more bulletproof.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      It doesn’t require “rather deliberate actions” to bypass. Just taking your eyes off the road (in Autopilot mode) gets you there. Maybe it’s texting, watching a video while driving, or even taking a nap.

      To leave the driver’s seat while the car is in motion, that takes a little bit of doing, but that dramatic and extreme stunt only illustrates the bigger issue.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        My car doesn’t prevent me from taking my eyes off the road, and I don’t have auto pilot. I see people driving around constantly not paying attention and their cars are doing nothing to prevent it.
        It almost feels like people claiming a building is dangerous because people are using it to base jump off of and they’re getting hurt. I don’t recall anyone saying it was a good idea to not have anyone in the driver’s seat while in autopilot. Prevention or not, if anyone tries to drive a car, any car, from somewhere other than the driver’s seat I’m going to find it hard to blame the manufacturer of the car.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Why does it feel like taking candy from a baby? No car will ever prevent you from taking your eyes off the road. But if any will shut off the self-driving mode because of it, what’s the problem?

  • avatar
    ajla

    “I can’t imagine even the most ardent fan of either company’s brands hopping on Twitter and looking for any way to excuse them for not finding and fixing a loophole”

    Seriously Tim? “Even the most ardent”?
    I could make a 200 page book of brand-rabid people saying ridiculous things from just TTAC comments alone that I’ve read over the years.
    The super fans (and super haters) of any manufacturer are insufferably crazy. This isn’t a thing unique to Tesla, however the Tesla fans do seem to have an outsized voice on Twitter and internet news sites.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      You have a good point, but I’ve never in my life seen it like it is with Tesla. True, social media is less than 15 years old, give or take, and Tesla is about the same age, give or take, but I can’t recall anything similar.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I wouldn’t get into an “autonomous” vehicle if you paid me.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The real problem is that people are expecting a dog to give birth to kittens.

    A Level 2 system doesn’t have to work, so whether Tesla’s interlocks can be defeated is irrelevant. Criticizing the dog for not bearing kittens is pointless.

    The conversation becomes meaningful when someone claims to field a Level 5 system.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      You’re not even babbling coherently now.

      It works. They all work. That’s clearly not the issue. Without the “safeties”, Autopilot can be (and is) used as a full autonomous vehicle. That’s what’s called a malfunction.

      That little glitch, yes combined with ignorance and or carelessness, yes no different texting or even drunk driving, causes damage, injuries and death.

      If a fix is applied, what’s your issue with it? What’s your malfunction?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I have no issue with a fix; that would be nice. But it’s still a Level 2 system that will crash without driver attention.

        And check your wording – no Tesla ever made is a fully autonomous vehicle, and Tesla makes no claim that they are.

        FSD is a fraudulent sale to duped buyers, but it’s always described as a ‘future’ capability. *No* Tesla driver is ever encouraged to behave as though their car is FSD, which means no driver attention is required.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          It’s not that they’re selling autonomous vehicles, or claiming (current) autonomous ability. But due to missing Autopilot “safeties”, the cars can physically drive themselves without any driver attention for short or extended periods.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            “the cars can physically drive themselves without any driver attention for short or extended periods”

            So can mine, on a straight road without camber.

            Level 2 systems give their operators the same warnings anyone would give me in my car: “You’re not really going to look away from the road, right?”

            Level 2 gives the *illusion* of safety without actually providing it. Adding interlocks that can’t be defeated won’t improve its performance, but it may force drivers to fulfill their obligation to pay attention.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Exactly, that’s the bottom line. Forcing Autopilot users to fulfill their obligation to pay attention.

            They may feel like I, but having Autopilot doesn’t make them special. At least not under the law.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            *…feel like it..

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Tesla, who should know to whom they’ve given the beta version of Full Self Driving, claims that the Texas car didn’t have it.

    There is a brief YouTube video of an owner testing Auto Pilot’s reaction to his unfastening his seat belt. The car begins by beeping and flashing at the driver. When he doesn’t respond to its satisfaction, the car pulls to the side of the road and stops.

    Auto Pilot depends on road markings. If it encounters a road without them, I would expect it to react like it did in the seat belt test. However, with nothing to tell it where to find the side of the road, I would expect it to stop without trying to pull over.

    The most likely explanation for the Texas wreck is that there was someone in the driver’s seat and he was showing off and lost control.

    Strange things happen during major crashes. A friend of mine was T-boned at a rural intersection. His wife, who refuses to wear seat belts, was riding in the front passenger’s seat. She was ejected through the rear window.

    Consumer Reports recommends that vehicles with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping also force drivers to pay attention. Doing away with both would be a simpler solution.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The Texas crash Tesla wouldn’t need Full Self Driving to ghost drive. FSD can take you door to door, streets, freeways, whatever, without ever touching the steering wheel, brakes or anything. And presumably asleep the whole time.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    My question is why did this rig totally burn up after a 30 mph wreck?

    From the Musk website: “NHTSA’s tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested.”

  • avatar
    dougjp

    What the h is a Stan. Don’t tell me. Some smart a makes up a word, lookie me!! :(

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Journalists wont ever critize Tesla cuz 1 bad word and your cut from all the events. There goes your income. Apple, google, all the tech companies do the same. Only reason CR did it before anyone else is because they get their funding from donations and subscriptions, not adds. The fact that theyre openly comitting currency manipulation and not getting called out ANYWHERE ON IT by the media is mind blowing.

    As for Elon and the cult of Tesla they remind me of the apple cult back in the day except as a hes a cult leader, hes 1000x bigger than Steve Jobs ever was and his fans are 1000x more scary. Its terrifying to see these brainwashed tesla fans are trolling and attacking anyone who says anything negative about tesla. I wont be suprised if they plant a bomb at the mustang mach e plant theyre so nuts.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      You mention Apple, if you peruse the comment section in a good old Apple vs. Android debate you will see stuff that makes EBFlex talking about Ford or anything else you see here look downright complimentary. Heck I had two younger operators almost come to blows over Linux vs OSX.

      I love me some Jobs 2.0 era Apple stuff though…You can take my flashmodded clickwheel iPod mini from my cold dead hands. Since then, meh…just slab phones like everyone else though I am considering jumping back to iOS with the 14.5 privacy enhancements…I like that and I like more that Zuck and the rest of the big data folks hate it which makes me want to give Apple some money. I’d have already donr it if the current SE had a headphone jack. I likely still will. Seems to be the first effort to turn the “we get all the data all the time” tide. Now if they would build a car.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        Oh come on! OSX has a BSD core, which is a real UNIX. Everyone knows that.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          That was his arguement too lol. Incidentally, I’m on his side, but I probably wouldn’t have a shouting match and knock chairs over in the office about it. I work with some interesting folks.

          I’m just the old dude that talks about how great OS2 warp was, peak Windows was 98 and how the pinnacle of PC gaming was Duke Nukem’ 3D l.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “I’m just the old dude that talks about how great OS2 warp was, peak Windows was 98 and how the pinnacle of PC gaming was Duke Nukem’ 3D l.”

            Facts check out.

          • 0 avatar
            brn

            I started with OS/2 2.0. Ran it even after IBM dropped it and eComstation picked it up. I still have it sitting on a virtual machine, but don’t think I’ve fired it up in about five years. It was a great OS in it’s day.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “You can take my flashmodded clickwheel iPod mini from my cold dead hands.”

        Rockbox?

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Nope. I converted my library from FLAC to ALAC to avoid switching firmware actually. I have a 7th gen “Classic” and a gen 2 mini both modded to 512 GB. Supposedly the 512 shouldn’t work in the mini, but I think the issue is a library size issue…the mini couldn’t load the iTunes DB if you had it full of 128 bit mp3 files…the database would be too big and if you tried to shuffle it would reboot.

          I use the space for lossless files though. I’m over 13000 songs and it does fine however the initial sync is a day and a half long affair. It is my favorite and supposedly has the good DAC in it, though to my ears the Classic sounds fine too with the “bad” Cirrus DAC.

          The classic is fine at 512gb. You can go to 2 TB in one of those. I can expand it if required…the adapter I used will take 4 SD cards. It syncs way quicker, but is on a different planet as far as the difficulty in cracking it open vs. the Mini, or any other of the original iPods. Apple didn’t want you in there.

          Not having Bluetooth or any ability to transmit allows me to use it in some places a modern device wouldn’t be allowed and like I said, the clickwheel is by far my favorite interface. I wish they’d integrate it into steering wheel controls where your thumb rests. Apple nailed those iPod’s. And nearly 20 years after the fact their modern OS’s still support them. I love that.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Plenty of journalists criticize Tesla, and some are current Tesla owners who have been invited to their events.

      The Tesla cult is weakening because there are so many options now, and the negative ownership stories are readily available. When I see used Model Ys for sale with 3000 miles on them, you have to ask why – and it’s not because the owner didn’t like the payments.

      For its part, Tesla remains the 800-lb EV gorilla, so they don’t really need to wreck critics as before.

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    I’m confused…the usual theme on this site is for “The dad-burned goverment to take their safety rules and shove em”. Now we want more oversight?

    I thought we were all against seatbelts and stuff. Hello?

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Being against seatbelts & stuff and being against the overreaching laws that make them mandatory and one more BS excuse to pull you over, aren’t necessary the same thing.

  • avatar
    karmang46

    Protect stupid people from doing stupid things. Sounds simple, but how much responsibility resides with the stupid vs the creator?

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It was no “mistake”. Elon was so confident that Autopilot could drive all by itself with zero driver monitoring/attention, and I’m sure it performed flawlessly in extensive testing, that he decided to let Autopilot users decide for themselves how much they monitor or pay attention to the road.

    And it bit him in the A$$.

  • avatar
    jeanbaptiste

    “ I did see one auto writer post in a private Facebook group that in his opinion, our society has failed to teach media consumers – i.e. just about everyone – that the media is supposed to report the truth, and sometimes that truth will paint a person/company/sports team/political party/political policy they support in a bad light. So, when journalists present true and accurate information that challenges their worldview, they do whatever they can to dismiss that new info, from calling the media “biased” or “fake” to coming up with unlikely exculpatory scenarios regarding the truth in order to excuse the person/thing they support from culpability and accountability.”

    Lol. Society didn’t fail to make consumers trust media, media failed to make themselves trustworthy.

    • 0 avatar
      JD-Shifty

      people watch stuff like tucker carlson and repeat it like it is news.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’d also say that “true and accurate information as reported” and “the editorial conclusion” are not the same thing but many in the media conflate them anyway.

      True and accurate information : You can “trick” Autopilot with steering wheel weights.

      The editorial conclusion : Being able to trick Autopilot with steering wheel weights shows Tesla is unacceptably lax in its safeguards.

      I don’t think someone disagreeing with the conclusion above is necessarily claiming “fake news”.

  • avatar

    Having little patience reading long articles that you can easily write in couple of paragraphs I still can conclude that in the New America stupidity is elevated to victimhood status.

  • avatar
    Keef Wivanef

    You think that’s bad?
    Try telling them about the WHOMPY WHEELS!

    just Google WHOMPY WHEELS
    It’s a horror show.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I’ve seen lots of suspension failure pics on all the Tesla models.
      A surprising number of fully detached wheels.
      Is this weak design or poor quality control on their castings or both?

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    This is the era of the cultist:

    Tesla cultists
    Apple cultists
    Facebook cultists
    Instagram cultists
    Twitter cultists
    cultists.

    A sign of the times….

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Exactly why I avoid Twitter, Teslas and dumb level whatever autonomous driving distraction aides. Problem solved. And yes we live in an insane world.

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