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Mixed Messages From Tesla On Autopilot And Other Automakers Regarding Similar Systems Leads to Confusion

A new study finds that half of drivers think Tesla Autopilot is a hands-free driver system.


A poorly chosen name and a history of mixed messages from Tesla have convinced half of the driving public that Autopilot is a hands-free driver aid. That is the finding from a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study.

IIHS Autopilot study

IIHS polled drivers and asked them questions about Autopilot and other similar driver assist systems. "Current levels of automation could potentially improve safety," IIHS President David Harkey says. "However, unless drivers have a certain amount of knowledge and comprehension, these new features also have the potential to create new risks." Alarmingly, nearly one in ten drivers think watching a video while Autopilot is in control would be acceptable. More than one in twenty think sleeping would be safe.

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"Tesla's user manual says clearly that the Autopilot's steering function is a ‘hands-on feature,' but that message clearly hasn't reached everybody," Harkey says. "Manufacturers should consider what message the names of their systems send to people." After each Autopilot death NHTSA releases its findings and repeatedly finds that drivers are not holding the wheel while Autopilot is engaged. The name "autopilot" is only part of the problem.

elon musk on twitter

Tesla frequently releases promotes Autopilot as moving tards a hands-free future. In 2016 it installed hardware called "Full Self Driving" for which it charges buyers. For years Tesla has been saying full self-driving is just around the corner time-wise.

The study also found other driving assist systems from other automakers also give the public a false impression of their autonomy and capabilities. Drivers in a focus group struggled to understand the driver assist features in a vehicle and also had difficulty knowing when they were activated. "If your Level 2 system fails to detect a vehicle ahead because of a hill or curve, you need to be ready to brake. Likewise, when lane centering does not work because of a lack of lane lines, you need to steer," says Harkey. "If people aren't understanding when those lapses occur, manufacturers should find a better way of alerting them."

See you in the next story where I am discussing Honda Civic exceeding EPA MPG estimates in 3rd test - 40 MPG.

John Goreham tweets at @johngoreham. Please send him news tips and follow us at @TorqueNewsAuto