Consumer Reports urges Tesla to disable auto steering

U.S. magazine Consumer Reports on Thursday urged electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. to disable the automatic steering function in its Autopilot driving-assist system, which is under investigation by U.S. regulators after a fatal crash.
The Autopilot features are demonstrated in a Tesla Model S during a company event in Palo Alto, Calif. in October 2015. (Beck Diefenbach/Reuters)

Consumer Reports magazine on Thursday urged Tesla Motors Inc to disable the automatic steering function on its electric vehicles and change the name of its Autopilot driving-assist system, which is under investigation after a driver was killed while using it.

Consumer Reports, which has 8 million subscribers and influences buyer decisions with its annual vehicle ratings, said the Autopilot name promotes "a potentially dangerous assumption" that the vehicle is capable of driving on its own.

The California-based electric car maker defended the product and the name Autopilot, saying it functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear.

"The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car," the company said.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating the May 7 crash and death in Florida of a Model S driver who was using Autopilot.

Keep hands on wheel

Consumer Reports said it wants Tesla to require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel as part of an updated driver-assist system, as well as changing the name.

"By marketing their feature as 'Autopilot,' Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security," said Laura MacCleery, vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for Consumer Reports.

"We're deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology. 'Autopilot' can't actually drive the car, yet it allows consumers to have their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time."

The magazine also urged Tesla to fully test safety systems before public deployment.

'Public beta phase'

Tesla said that while it appreciated well-meaning advice, the company would make its decisions "on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by media."

Tesla shares were little changed on Thursday, trading at $222.90.

Tesla, in a June blog post about the crash, described Autopilot as being in a "public beta phase" and said customers have to opt in before activation.

The magazine also urged the NHTSA to step up oversight of cars with features like Autopilot. Under current regulations, the agency doesn't test or approve the systems.

Earlier this week, NHTSA said it wants records of how many times the system told drivers to put their hands on the wheel.

Tesla said Tuesday its autosteer software, the steering function in Autopilot, was enabled during a Sunday crash involving a Model X in Montana. Tesla said data suggested "the driver's hands were not on the steering wheel."