In the name of progress, Tesla plays with road safety


Elon Musk repeats over and over that his cars will soon be completely autonomous, but Tesla maintains vagueness about the real capabilities of its current driver assistance systems and does not hesitate to navigate road safety rules.

Turning too tight, overturned block, unexpected overtaking: as illustrated by many videos on the Internet, Teslas testing the latest version of the manufacturer’s driver assistance system, nicknamed “FSD Beta”, can have unstable behavior.

Elon Musk’s group also agreed in early February to officially “recall” nearly 54,000 vehicles equipped with “FSD Beta” to deactivate, remotely, an option allowing cars not to come to a complete stop at “Stop” in certain conditions.

READ ALSOTesla hesitates between “stop” and “again”

“This was not a simple engineering error, but a deliberate decision by Tesla to violate traffic laws,” notes Phil Koopman, an autonomous vehicle safety specialist at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsylvania. .

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Agency, NHTSA, also launched an investigation last summer after a series of Autopilot-equipped Tesla crashes with first-response vehicles.

“Tesla does a lot of things that play with road safety rules and a lot of marketing that makes consumers think vehicles are more advanced than they are,” said Michael Brooks, head of the Center for Safety. automobile.

Verbal Certification

In the United States, vehicles are not homologated before driving. Manufacturers simply have to certify that they comply with the rules in force. Only after the fact can the NHTSA intervene, if it considers that the vehicle violates the standards or that it presents an “unreasonable danger”.

Sometimes the rules don’t exist, like on cruise control, notes Bryant Walker Smith, a legal expert in autonomous driving at Stanford University.

Under the Trump administration, NHTSA has mostly focused its efforts on creating a new framework for self-driving vehicles, which for now remains in limbo. After a few months of getting its bearings under the new administration, the agency has begun to look more closely at the impact of new technologies on road safety.

In June, it requested that all collisions involving cars equipped with certain driver assistance or autonomous driving systems be reported to it, then, after the opening of the investigation relating to first aid vehicles, requested more and more information on the subject.

The agency “continues to research new technologies, including driver assistance tools, and monitor their performance in real-world conditions,” a spokeswoman told AFP.

60,000 testers on public roads

Tesla offers “Autopilot” on all its new cars, which allows you to adapt the speed to the traffic and maintain your course in a lane.

The group also offers various options, such as changing lanes, parking assistance or taking into account traffic lights, integrated depending on the country in the “Enhanced Autopilot” or “Fully autonomous driving capability” packages.

Tesla finally promises, “coming soon”, “automated driving in the city”. But the manufacturer is already testing this functionality in real conditions by a growing number of motorists, around 60,000 currently. On its website, the group specifies that the driver must remain vigilant, with their hands on the wheel. A somewhat hypocritical precaution, totally impossible in Europe.

Tesla also estimated in a letter to the Californian authorities last year that all these functionalities fell within level 2 on the autonomy scale set by the Society of Automotive Engineers organization which has 6, and that it does not was therefore not subject to the stricter rules laid down for autonomous driving tests.

But Elon Musk keeps praising the merits of his software and makes it clear that the goal is to achieve an autonomous driving system, as implied by the names “Autopilot” or “Fully Self-Driving Capability”.

“Tesla is trying to get the butter and the money from the butter, in a deceitful and irresponsible way,” said Bryant Walker Smith.

He doesn’t absolve other manufacturers who “for decades have been advertising vehicles speeding through the desert.” But developers of self-driving systems too, and even more advanced than Tesla, like Waymo, “are more reluctant” to brag about their capabilities.

Tesla’s attitude is regrettable, believes the specialist. Because the tools developed by the group could really help reduce risks on the roads, many accidents being caused by the inattention of drivers.


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