Senator Markey Urges Tesla to Address Safety Flaws in its Autopilot System

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Friday, November 22, 2019

Recent media report reveals Tesla drivers have identified a variety of ways to circumvent Autopilot safeguards

Boston (November 22, 2019) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, sent a letter to Tesla expressing concerns about safety flaws in Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system. According to a recent news report on NBC Boston, Tesla drivers have identified a variety of ways to circumvent the safety alerts and automatic shut-off feature that are designed to activate when a user of Autopilot is no longer paying attention to the road. These techniques are posted online and include strategically resting a driver’s hand at the six o’clock position on the wheel, tying a weight to the wheel, and wedging a water bottle or an orange into the wheel. In one alarming example that was the subject of a recent media report, a Tesla driver used one of these techniques and then fell asleep even while his car drove on Autopilot for fourteen miles without his attention.

In response to a pedestrian fatality caused by an autonomous vehicle (AV), Senators Markey and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote to Tesla in May 2018 to inquire about the company’s safety protocols and practices while testing AV technology.

“In your inadequate and unconcerned June 2018 response, Tesla failed to recognize the potential harm your Autopilot system could cause,” writes Senator Markey in his letter to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. “Instead, Tesla ignored my questions about Autopilot’s safety features and instead cited the Autopilot system itself as a robust safety feature. Tesla’s disregard for the importance of safety features and significant reliance on Autopilot makes the recent report about drivers evading your safeguards both unsurprising and troubling.”

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

In his letter, Senator Markey requests responses to questions that include:

  • Does Tesla exhaustively test potential methods for evading Autopilot’s safety features?
  • Does Tesla track or otherwise monitor the online videos that drivers are posting to share tricks for circumventing Autopilot’s safety features?
  • What actions is Tesla taking to upgrade the Autopilot system in Tesla cars currently on the road to address these now-known flaws?
  • What action is Tesla taking to improve Autopilot for future models of Tesla cars before they are put on the market?
  • What safeguards beyond the Autopilot system is Tesla deploying, or considering deploying, to address the risks of AV technologies on public roads?

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