Bloomberg reported that Tesla finally confirmed that the driver of the Model X who died in a terrible crash on March 23 was using the car’s Autopilot feature. Since then the company’s driver-assistance safety system is back under scrutiny.
According to a blog post published by Tesla on Friday, data recovered from the Model X’s logs show that the driver, Wei Huang, 38, took his hands off the steering wheel for 6 seconds before the SUV smashed into the highway barrier in California and caught fire.
The post clarifies that the driver received several visual and even one audible hands-on warning before the crash, earlier in the drive. It also states that the driver had about 5 seconds as well as 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete highways divider before the crash. The log showed that the driver took no action despite repeated warnings from the Autopilot.
Unfortunately for Tesla, this accident took place just days after Uber Technologies’ self-driving test vehicle collided with and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. This has unfortunately cast doubts on the entire notion of self-driving cars.
It didn’t help that another Tesla car, the Model S, had been involved in fatal car accident in 2016. The driver had been using the Autopilot system when the Model S collided with a semi-truck. An investigation was carried out and in September 2017, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) decreed that the Autopilot system was a contributing factor in the crash. The NTSB criticized the Autopilot system for giving the driver too much leeway to distract his attention from the road.
Now, a US regulator of transportation safety said that it would be investigating the Model X crash. All of this caused a sharp drop in Tesla’s share price last week. The company lost more than $5 billion in market value last week.
Tesla has strongly defended its Autopilot system, providing data on the safety of using autopilot. According to the blog post, the company’s data shows that Tesla drivers have driven that stretch of highway on Autopilot about 85,000 times since 2015 when the system was launched, and at least 20,000 times this year alone. The blog also stated that there are over 200 safe trips on that stretch of highway on a daily basis.
Tesla also stated in its blog that a vehicle with Autopilot was 3.7 times less likely to have a fatal accident. According to the company, US statistics show that there is one fatal auto accident every 86 million miles in self-driven vehicles, as compared to the 320 million miles for Autopilot vehicles.
The company went on to give its condolences to the family, stating that these statistics don’t change how devastating an event like this could be. The company also faced criticism for showing a lack of empathy for the bereaved as it listed out statistics while defending its Autopilot system.
Tesla introduced driver assistance features through its Autopilot system, which is constantly improved through over-the-air software updates.
And while the company declared in October 2016 that all its future vehicles would come equipped with hardware necessary for autonomous driving capability, Tesla did not specify when its cars will clear regulatory and testing standards.
In the wake of this crash, Tesla has updated its Autopilot system to not allow drivers to ignore repeated warnings about keeping their hands on the wheel.
The NTSB also criticized the system for not measuring whether drivers had their eyes on the road or not. Currently, the Tesla system only measures steering wheel movement and not whether the driver is watch the road or not.