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Tesla Defends Autopilot System Amid Investigations, Has No Plans To Disable It

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Elon Musk states that Tesla Motors will keep the Autopilot feature, even after the slew of accidents that happened with the function switched on.

The carmaker's CEO points out that his company will double its efforts to educate customers about the limitations of Autopilot, so drivers will know exactly what to expect.

Musk declared that Tesla is working on an explanatory blog post that will highlight how Autopilot works and how drivers should behave after its activation.

"A lot of people don't understand what it is and how you turn it on," Musk says.

Musk was one of the most vocal advocates of the Autopilot feature and pushed hard for it to roll out. The main motivation for bringing it to the streets was that lives would be saved.

Massachusetts Highway Safety Director Jeff Larason backs Musk's statement. He believes that a wider presence of self-driving technologies will reduce the risks associated with driving, as human error is responsible for more than 90 percent of all car crashes.

Tesla's Autopilot system has more control over the vehicle than similar systems from other cars, and features automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and steering assist.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced in June that it is investigating Tesla Motors' Autopilot feature after the first death associated with the function took place in May.

On May 7, Model S owner Joshua Brown was the first person to lose his life in a Tesla car that had Autopilot switched on.

The NHTSA revealed a nine-page letter requesting for documents and details pertaining to other crashes involving Tesla's Autopilot to add to its investigation repository. The authorities want to understand how or why the emergency braking and forward-collision warnings failed to function before the May 7 crash.

A spokesman for the NHTSA explained that the request is part of the agency's standard procedure.

"NHTSA has not made any determination about the presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles," he added.

In the letter, the NHTSA asks details about the design and build of Autopilot, as well as reports of crashes, injuries or deaths pertaining to the technology. The NHTSA also urges Tesla to contribute with data from its internal inquiries of the May 7 accident.

When the Autopilot went live, Tesla called it a beta feature and crafted it in such a way that the system must be turned on voluntarily by the driver.

"It says beta specifically so people do not become complacent," Musk underlines.

According to Tesla, drivers get disclaimers about the limitations of the feature in plain language. However, some claim that some of the automaker's warnings should be more prominent, and hint that Autopilot performed in weird ways before crashes.

Tesla defends its self-driving feature and brings numbers to the table. According to Tesla, Autopilot was used for 130 million miles before claiming its first victim.

At least two more crashes involving Tesla vehicles with engaged Autopilot have been reported since the NHTSA made the announcement that the investigation is ongoing.

A recent incident features a Tesla Model X SUV that crashed into a railing wire while driving along the side of Montana State Highway 2. The driver was traveling from Seattle to Yellowstone National Park. At a certain point, the Model X hit the railing and kept going for 200 feet before returning to the roadway.

It is unclear whether or not the driver had his hands on the wheel during the incident. Preliminary data from Tesla suggests that the driver did not have his hands on the steering wheel at the moment of the crash.

Keep in mind that removing the hands from the steering wheel for too long directly violates the terms drivers agree to when they turn on the feature.

The other crash involved another Model X, and it took place at the beginning of July. The incident happened in Pennsylvania, where a Model X veered into a guard rail and ended up crashing into a concrete median. The NHTSA is also probing to see whether the driver had his hands on the wheel at the time of the incident.

We will keep you posted on the findings of the investigations and on Autopilot's development.

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