POLL RESULTS: Transportation industry backs Tesla’s autopilot technology, despite crashes

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Tesla’s Model S ‘autopilot’ feature is under scrutiny again this week, following a minor crash in Beijing, China. But, as illustrated by the results of an exclusive Traffic Technology Today poll, published today (Aug 11), transportation professionals continue to show support for Tesla’s technology.

Our poll was launched following reports last month (July 1) of a fatal crash in Florida, which happened because a 2015 Tesla Model S, driving in autopilot mode, did not detect or brake to avoid colliding with a truck. It is the first and only fatal road accident involving a Tesla’s autopilot technology and an investigation by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Office of Defects is currently underway to evaluate the design and performance of the feature.

The story prompted us to ask you, our expert readers, “Should Tesla suspend the autopilot function in their vehicles until more is known about the fatal accident?”. We can now reveal that the vast majority (65%) of transportation professionals answered ‘no’ the feature should continue to be available.

In the recent crash in Beijing a Tesla vehicle, which was driving in autopilot mode, scraped against a car parked on the side of the road and knocked off its wing mirror. There were no injuries. In this case Tesla argues that the driver is at fault because he did not have his hands on the steering wheel at the time of the crash. “As clearly communicated to the driver in the vehicle, autosteer is an assist feature that requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times, to always maintain control and responsibility for the vehicle, and to be prepared to take over at any time,” a spokesperson from the automobile company says.

It is an opinion that today was also backed by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), whose chief scientist Richard Cuerden (pictured) says, “The Society of Automotive Engineers currently specifies¬†five levels of vehicle automation. Tesla’s autopilot system is classified as level two, which means the driver is required to maintain alertness and be ready at the controls, even in autopilot mode. We are going to see more collisions like this where, for whatever reason, the driver and the technology didn’t identify and react to the threat. What we need to do now is understand why the vehicle made the decisions it did and act accordingly.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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