About the fatal crash in May of a Tesla Model S car operating beta-version software for its Autopilot feature, the company's engineering executives told the U.S. Senate during committee hearings that the vehicle's brakes were at fault. The New York Times reported:
"... Tesla told members of the Senate Commerce Committee staff on Thursday that the problem involved the car’s automatic braking system, said the staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It was not clear how or why Tesla considers the automatic braking system to be separate from Autopilot, which combines automated steering, adaptive cruise control and other features meant to avoid accidents. Tesla declined to comment... The company told the committee staff that it considered the braking systems as “separate and distinct” from Autopilot, which manages the car’s steering, and can change lanes and adjust travel speed..."
Auto experts say that the Autopilot feature and brakes should work together. So, either the car didn't recognize that it had to stop, or it failed to stop when it should have. The Autopilot feature requires the driver to be ready to assist, if needed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating the crash.
Consumer Reports, which has tested vehicles for decades, has called for automakers to not use people as "guinea pigs for vehicle safety beta programs."
While the fatal Tesla crash was tragic, it is also a reminder for consumers to:
- Know the differences between full autonomous automation and features that assist drivers,
- Know the limitations of automation features including road conditions that require driver intervention,
- Know which features use beta-version software (which means they are unfinished and still being tested), and
- Read all applicable polices (e.g., terms of service, privacy) before and after purchasing a vehicle to understand your responsibilities and liability. Certain features and road conditions require driver intervention.