Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features received criticism from U.S. Senator Ed Markey during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on November 20. The Democratic senator from the State of Massachusetts stated the electric car maker should disable its “Autopilot” feature until the company implements safeguards that would decrease the possibility of drivers using the system to sleep while operating their vehicle.
“Tesla should disable Autopilot until it fixes the problem,” Markey said during the meeting. The Senator cited YouTube videos and news reports of drivers falling asleep while Autopilot controlled the vehicle while it was in operation. “That’s not safe. Somebody is going to die because they can go to YouTube as a driver – find a way to (get around safety requirements). We can’t entrust the lives of our drivers and everyone else on the road to a water bottle,” he added.
Chief of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) James Owens stated the organization would be in touch with Tesla to try and resolve the issue that Markey was obviously worried about.
The company has stated in the past that drivers must keep their hands on the wheel at all times, even if they are utilizing the Autopilot or FSD features such as Navigate on Autopilot with automatic lane changes. In September 2018, the Silicon Valley-based electric car company stated they “made updates to our system, including adjusting the time intervals between hands-on warnings and the conditions under which they’re activated.”
In fact, Tesla does not, and has never, condoned drivers to take their attention off the task of driving the vehicle, even if the person operating the car is utilizing Autopilot or FSD. “Before using Autopilot, please read your Owner’s Manual for instructions and more safety information. While using Autopilot, it is your responsibility to stay alert, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times and maintain control of your car,” the company’s website states on its “Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability” page. “Before enabling Autopilot, the driver first needs to agree to “keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times” and to always “maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.” Subsequently, every time the driver engages Autopilot, they are shown a visual reminder to “keep your hands on the wheel.”
Tesla has added features to ensure drivers maintain their focus on the road while the car navigates on its own. Some owners have tested a feature known within the Tesla community as “Autopilot Jail,” where the vehicle will prompt the driver to grab the wheel if it does not sense it is being controlled. The vehicle will send a warning message on its dash screen, telling the driver to “Hold Steering Wheel.” If the driver fails to grab the wheel and take control of the vehicle, the car will disable the features, stating, “Autosteer unavailable for the rest of this drive.” If the driver still does not take control of the vehicle, the Tesla will automatically come to a stop in a controlled fashion, activating the hazard lights as a precaution.
While some drivers have used Autopilot and FSD as a way to get some extra shut-eye while driving, Tesla has never condoned these actions and has added safety features to prevent these events from occurring. Tesla vehicles are known for being involved in very few accidents. Tesla vehicles driven without Autopilot were involved in one accident every 1.58 million miles driven according to a report released in Q1 2019. However, the same report showed vehicles utilizing Autopilot features were involved in an accident once every 2.87 million miles driven, around 6.5 times the national average of 436,000. Autopilot has also recently reached 2 billion miles driven.
Watch Tesla’s Autopilot deactivate itself following numerous warnings to a driver below.