Tesla Motors Inc got into the center storm of safety issues about its Autopilot system on Thursday. It’s been a tough month for the automaker and it ended on a sour note with reports showing that Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old from Ohio was involved in a fatal crash in a Model S. The Model S collided with a large truck while in autopilot mode and investigations have started to unravel the mystery behind the crash.
Nonetheless, it might take a couple of months before the NHTSA concludes its investigation on the crash. In the meantime, it is unknown whether Brown could have averted the crash if he took over from Autopilot. It is unknown whether Autopilot actually failed to perform up to expectations. Nobody knows at the moment if Brown used Autopilot incorrectly. Of course, there is the possibility that there was nothing Brown or Autopilot could do to prevent the crash.
Tesla’s autopilot warnings could have prevented the fatal crash
Tesla Motors is currently facing backlash from its critics about the appropriateness of putting Autopilot on the roads. Many of the critics claim that Autopilot is not a full self-driving system contrary to how Tesla markets the software. Critics are also noting that Musk is being irresponsible by putting Beta Software into the hands of real world users.
However, Tesla has detailed a comprehensive set of warnings on Autopilot safety in the Model S owner’s manual. Two of those warnings are particularly related to the recent fatal crash of the Model S.
One of the warning reads “Do not depend on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to adequately and appropriately slow down Model S. Always watch the road in front of you and stay prepared to brake at all times. Traffic-Aware Cruise Control does not eliminate the need to apply the brakes as needed, even at slow speeds.”
Another warning says, “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control cannot detect all objects and may not detect a stationary vehicle or other object in the lane of travel. There may be situations in which Traffic-Aware Cruise Control does not detect a vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian. Depending on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to avoid a collision can result in serious injury or death.”
Tesla asks drivers to refrain from Autopilot stunts
The Internet is awash with thousands of viral videos shot by Model S owners flaunting Autopilot at work. There’s little evidence that Brown was acting irresponsibly with Autopilot but there’s a YouTube video he shot of Autopilot at work. In the video, Brown had his hands off the wheel while narrating how the Model S parallel parks itself. There was another video of a driver driving 75MpH in a 60mPh zone. You’ll remember the video of the driver taking a nap while trusting Autopilot to take him to his destination.
Tesla Motors must make a concerted effort to discourage its owners from pulling stunts by pushing Autopilot beyond its limits. Last year, Elon Musk noted that he had came across a number of “fairly crazy videos on YouTube” of people pulling stunts with Autopilot in the hopes of going viral. He however noted that the firm would include “additional constraints” on the autopilot technology in order to “minimize the possibility of people doing crazy things with it”.