A strange news report began circulating this morning of a crash and fire in the North of Houston, Texas overnight. The strange part being a police Sergeant reported there was “no one in the driver’s seat”.
Now those familiar with Tesla’s Full Self Driving ambitions may be quick to assume that in this case someone may have assumed their car could do more than it could and thus they were not in the drivers seat, however, a full investigation is yet to take place.
It could be the occupants were not wearing seatbelts, and thus their position in the car not based on where they were at the moment of the crash, but it’s yet another black mark on the Tesla brand as it becomes renowned for it’s “Autonomous” capabilities.
I’ve driven hundreds of cars, and many of them feature technology similar to or even better than what Tesla has on board. They are amazing.
Lane Keep Assistance
In many cars, even the most affordable on the market, you might get an audible warning, or even a vibration through the steering wheel if you veer from your own lane. This helps prevent accidents where cars go outside their own lane.
In an additional level of support, many cars are able to “see” the lanes and actually steer around bends. I’ve used this as recently as last night on the M1 motorway in a Genesis GV80 which would wind around the freeway turns.
Radar Cruise Control
Rather than setting a speed and keeping at it, with modern cars, you can normally set a speed and that acts as a maximum, with other cars in front slowing down, your car will slow too, and maintain a safe gap to the car ahead, speeding up when they do, slowing down when they do.
Autonomous Emergency Braking
In the event you aren’t quick enough to react or don’t see an incident most cars will also slam on the brakes to prevent a full impact with other cars, this will save thousands of “Rear enders” each year.
But these are not self-driving cars.
I’ve said for years that Tesla’s marketing of “Autopilot” was deceptive in that it conveyed a truth that didn’t really exist. Most of the Autopilot features are just the safety features above, but other brands don’t sell them as anything “autonomous” so you’d hear of people being idiots and driving without their hands on the wheel or looking at the road ahead.
Sadly for Tesla, that has happened, and there have been incidents where Tesla’s have crashed as a result of the driver not paying attention to the road, instead assuming the car can do the job.
In no car is it legal, or possible, to hand over full control of the driving. The driver has responsibility and must maintain attention on the road, and hands on the wheel. It’s really that simple.
This will not get any better as Tesla continues to test it’s next feature “Full Self Driving” which is currently being “Beta tested” by Tesla owners in the USA.
Personally, I think thats dangerous, risky, and the publicity of the “Full Self Driving” feature (and that it is a tickbox and future option on Tesla cars being sold) is deceptive and should not be allowed.
We need proper engineers testing these features, in controlled environments, approved by regulators at all times.
Regulators are cautious, and they are so for a reason.
Technology can and does save lives
Our cars today are safer than ever, and will continue to become moreso.
However, we need to embrace the technology that enables this. In the Genesis GV80 I’m driving, there are sensors that can see my eyes, check if I’m paying attention. Perhaps if that was in place in this, car, no matter how the accident happened – if a car without someone in the drivers seat was programmed to slow to a stop then perhaps lives will be saved? Who knows.
Sadly, two men, aged 59 and 70 have lost their lives in a road crash, not the only ones today, but the only ones where it’s been reported no-one was in the drivers seat. We’ll have to wait and see what investigators make of this in the months ahead.
It could well be something very different happened, unfortunately for Tesla these incidents just shine a spotlight on what they do.