Enlarge/Tesla says that Autopilot users should always keep both hands on the steering wheel.
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On Friday, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called on Tesla to adopt “common sense recommendations” in its Autopilot driver assist to “guarantee the safety of its technology.” Specifically, he’s asking the automaker to stop implying that the system is capable of self-driving and also asks Tesla to fit a proper driver-monitoring system. The senator began his investigation into the company’s driver-assist package following multiple reports of drivers circumventing the cars’ rudimentary safety controls.
From the senator’s website:
Autopilot is a flawed system, but I believe its dangers can be overcome… I have been proud to work with Tesla on advancing cleaner, more sustainable transportation technologies. But these achievements should not come at the expense of safety. That’s why I’m calling on Tesla to use its resources and expertise to better protect drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and all other users of the road. I urge Tesla to adopt my common sense recommendations for fixing Autopilot, which include rebranding and remarketing the system to reduce misuse, as well as building backup driver monitoring tools that will make sure no one falls asleep at the wheel. Tesla can and must do more to guarantee the safety of its technology.
This is not the first time that the name Autopilot has come under fire. In 2016, the German transport minister told the company “to no longer use the misleading term for the driver-assistance system of the car.” In 2018, two US consumer safety groups asked the Federal Trade Commission to address Autopilot’s “deceptive and misleading” branding. In 2019, we discovered that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told the company to stop making “misleading statements” when it comes to safety, and the company repeatedly made claims about the safety of Autopilot that were not supported by fact. (The data showed that Autosteera component of the Autopilot suite of assistsactually increased crashes by 59 percent.)A survey conducted in 2019 showed that nearly 50 percent of drivers thought Autopilot was safe to use hands-free. Tesla has repeatedly stated that drivers have to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, although the company’s CEO famously flouted this advice in a lengthy interview shown on CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2018. In a December 2019 letter to Sen. Markey, Tesla wrote that it believes “that many of these videos are fake and intended to capture media attention.”
Markey’s second safety request is for Tesla to fit its vehicles with an effective driver-monitoring system (DMS). He’s not alonein 2019, in response to yet another video of someone asleep in the driver’s seat of a moving Tesla, my colleague Tim Lee laid out a case for why a steering wheel torque sensor is inadequate compared to a proper DMS like the kind used by Cadillac or Subaru, which use eye-tracking cameras to ensure the driver has their attention on the road ahead.
This is not the first time that Markey has turned his attention to new car technology. In 2015, his office released a report on the lack of security measures to prevent connected cars from being hacked.Tesla did not respond when contacted by Ars for its comment on Sen. Markey’s requests.