Tesla critics say the Autopilot recall fixes don’t go far enough


The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, on April 7, 2016. Following a years-long investigation, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined Tesla’s Autopilot doesn’t do enough to guard against misuse, prompting Tesla’s largest recall ever. — Reuters

Tesla Inc’s decision to fix more than two million vehicles’ Autopilot driver-assistance systems after a US federal probe drew some praise from safety advocates, but many said the company should be taking additional steps to ensure drivers are paying full attention at the wheel.

“It’s a good initial step, but there’s a lot that still needs to be done,” said Mary “Missy” Cummings, a George Mason University professor who has been critical of Tesla’s Autopilot software.

Following a years-long investigation, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined Tesla’s Autopilot doesn’t do enough to guard against misuse, prompting Tesla’s largest recall ever.

Tesla said in its Dec 12 recall report that it expected to start deploying an over-the-air software to incorporate additional controls and alerts on that day or soon after. The company, which has disbanded its media relations department, did not respond to a request for comment on the recall or NHTSA’s investigation.

Cummings, a former US Navy pilot who also worked for NHTSA, has clashed with the carmaker’s fans on X, the social media site owned by Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk. She expressed scepticism that Tesla’s fixes would go beyond what regulators require.

Among the potential changes Tesla could make is moving to a system where drivers are required to have good driving scores on their internal monitoring system to get access to Autopilot, Cummings said. And she said drivers shouldn’t be able to use it in areas it’s not designed for, like city streets.

Michael Brooks, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, agreed Tesla should only be applauded so much.

Brooks said he was “glad that Tesla appears to be putting additional restrictions” around where and when Autopilot can be enabled, as well as adding more warnings.

But, he said, “there don’t appear to be any answers or fixes relating to the system’s repeated failures to detect and respond to emergency personnel and other related hazards.”

William Wallace, associate director of safety policy at Consumer Reports, said Tesla’s recall was too long in coming.

“Tesla should’ve launched a broad recall for Autopilot at least five years ago, and delays like this are unacceptable,” Wallace said in an emailed statement. “We credit NHTSA for its perseverance, but it’s clear the agency needs a greater practical ability to force recalls when a company drags its feet.”

US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey, Democrats from Connecticut and Massachusetts, respectively, said in a statement the Autopilot recall was “egregiously overdue”. The senators urged NHTSA to “continue its investigations to spur necessary recalls, and Tesla to stop misleading drivers and putting the public in great danger”. – Bloomberg

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