Consumer Reports is asking Tesla Motors to switch off its partial self-driving system named Autopilot, as the feature appears to have been activated during a fatal crash.
The watchdog magazine points out that the automaker is confusing its customers by branding its driver-assisting system Autopilot. Consumer Reports believes that drivers get confused by Tesla's message, which is that Autopilot drives the car autonomously but requires the constant and full attention of the driver. The magazine adds that drivers may be tempted to rely too much on Autopilot, making them slow to react in emergency scenarios.
"[Autopilot is] misleading and potentially dangerous," Consumer Reports labels the system.
Tesla is far from being the only automaker that embeds self-driving technology, but the company stands out as the most verbal apologist of the system. Also, it should be mentioned that Tesla's cars are the only ones that allow drivers to completely take their hands off the wheel for increased periods of time.
Autopilot contains an automatic steering portion that assists drivers by steering, accelerating and braking Tesla cars automatically on lane-marked highways. Consumer Reports says that Tesla should tweak the system so that drivers are obliged to keep their hands on the steering wheel.
The magazine notes that the best strategy for Tesla would be to disable the Autopilot steering technology, revamp it and even rebrand it.
Consumer Reports made the recommendations in the wake of an investigation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Transportation Safety Board, which is looking into Tesla's Autopilot. The NHTSA is probing the death of Joshua Brown, who lost his life as his Tesla Model S with Autopilot activated crashed a trailer truck.
Laura MacCleery, the vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for the magazine, acknowledges the potential of self-driving systems to contribute to road safety. However, she underlines that there are concerns over the "unproven technology."
The magazine did evaluate the Autopilot feature in October 2015 and said that it works "quite well." Consumer Reports made it clear that the system is far from being a fully self-driving system and opened queries about how safe it actually is.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, answered the magazine's demands and said that his company will keep the system in place. Musk thinks that self-driving features are still more dependable than human drivers, who are very prone to making mistakes.
"Drivers supported by Autopilot remain safer than those operating without assistance," Tesla affirms.
The carmaker notes that it appreciates feedback from both individuals and groups, but points out that the decisions it makes are based entirely on "real-world data, not speculation by media."
Tesla appears to be determined to keep the name unchanged for the system, which comes with a warning urging drivers to have their their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.
"Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear," Tesla said.
The company underlines that drivers remain the main actors responsible for the safety of the car and passengers. The vehicle will notify and alert the driver, but it is eventually up to the drivers to arrive at their destination safely.