May 17 2019
06:59 am

A Tesla Model 3 car involved in a fatal crash with a semitrailer in Florida was operating on the company’s semiautonomous Autopilot system, federal investigators have determined.
David Friedman, who was acting head of the NHTSA in 2014 and is now vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports, said he was surprised the agency didn’t declare Autopilot defective after the Gainesville crash and seek a recall. The Delray Beach crash, he said, reinforces that Autopilot is being allowed to operate in situations it cannot handle safely.

“Their system cannot literally see the broad side of an 18-wheeler on the highway,” Friedman said.
“Tesla has for too long been using human drivers as guinea pigs.

It's like a lot of new technology these days. The beta versions get implemented or people are allowed to continue using the product(s) without safety precautions otherwise you're a Luddite if you don't go with the flow. Sheesh.

fischbobber's picture

Tesla Autopilot

The Tesla autopilot system is safer than the vast majority of human drivers. The truth turned left from the right lane in front of the Tesla and the accident was the fault of the truck driver, not the Tesla. Would the driver have been killed if he had been operating his own vehicle? Maybe/probably according to the facts presented in virtually every accident report I'v read. Second, the side panel of the truck was white and he turned into the sun creating a reflective situation that was not programed into sensors. Software engineers design based on situations likely to be encountered. The situation that caused this wreck was not one that, in over thirty two years as a professional driver, I've not only never seen, but never even heard of.

The room cause of this accident was the declining regulation of the trucking industry, the declining wages that go with it and and obvious lack of training of the truck driver.

Finally, I own Tesla stock and have been following the Trump administration' s handling of the entire industry of renewables. This report is but a series of policies coming from Washington designed to keep this nation from switching from fossil fuels to renewables. Check Teslas per mile accident rate with autopilot. A dollar to a donut says it's a fraction of the human rate.

bizgrrl's picture

Check Teslas per mile

Check Teslas per mile accident rate with autopilot. A dollar to a donut says it's a fraction of the human rate.

Not a good comparison considering how few Teslas there are on the road.

Software engineers design based on situations likely to be encountered.

Beta. There is a lot of sun. There are a lot white vehicles.

Tesla’s system was too slow to warn the driver to pay attention, unlike systems that Consumer Reports has tested from General Motors Co. and other companies, Friedman said. GM’s Super Cruise driver assist system operates only on divided highways with no median turn lanes, he said.

Consumer Reports.

Somebody's picture

In a fact-based world...

Check Teslas per mile accident rate with autopilot. A dollar to a donut says it's a fraction of the human rate.

Not a good comparison considering how few Teslas there are on the road.

Actually, that's exactly the data that is required to contextualize the issue. Also, there are lots of Teslas on the road. I see Teslas on the road here every day, even though we're nowhere near a Tesla showroom. There are enough out there already to compile relevant data. Also, because Teslas 'phone home' with accident (and other performance) information, it would seem they are not just sampling data, but actually capturing in near real time high-quality, highly precise data on most if not all of their vehicles that do (and don't) have accidents. Presumably data on most other cars is captured via police and insurance reporting that eventually makes its way to NHTSA.

In the 4th quarter, we [Tesla] registered one accident for every 2.91 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot, we registered one accident for every 1.58 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 436,000 miles.

So a calm look at the available data would suggest that without Autopilot, Teslas are about 28% as likely as the average to get into an accident, and with Autopilot, they get into about 15% as many accidents as the average car on the road. So if you look at the actual facts, if this is what it means for Tesla to be 'beta testing' its safety systems on its customers, for their own safety, more people should sign up to be test subjects.

bizgrrl's picture

As of approx. July 2018 Tesla

As of approx. July 2018 Tesla had sold 200,000 cars in the US. That's a total for all sales in the US.

In Dec. 2018 Toyota sold 200,000 cars or nearly 2.5 million for the year. Ford sold 2.5 million as well. GM sold nearly 3 million. Over 17 million vehicles were sold in the US in 2018.

Yes, smaller numbers can be used for statistics.

cafkia's picture


Thus my assertion that I would rather be out there with all the other vehicles being Teslas on Autopilot than with average humans doing their normal.

The sample size is smaller but not small because as you pointed out, all of the Teslas call home to report whatever there is to report. So it is not actually a sample but hard data and easily enough to establish a trend even if a solid conclusion is premature.

Perfect is the enemy of good enough. Perfect is also the enemy of better. There are almost certainly reasons to not acquire and/or operate a Tesla. Increased danger is not among them. Quite the opposite according to all I have seen.

Somebody's picture

There are a couple of other

There are a couple of other things about automated automobiles that I don't think are well understood or mentioned enough. The first is learning from experience. The best drivers have a lot of miles behind them and have experienced quite a lot of driving scenarios. They can anticipate difficulties and dangers, and they can react and maneuver out of them deftly. Now imagine if driving experience could be gained cumulatively across many, many drivers. That's what you get from Tesla and the other automated systems. Each vehicle is programmed with the accumulated hundreds of thousands or millions of miles of driving experience. This quickly becomes more than any one human could ever learn on her own.

The other thing is the game changer for older people. People sped a lifetime gaining all that driving experience, and then their reflexes slow down and the grandkids take the keys away. Then they either have to move and lose the home they've lived in for years, or depend on others to take them around (less and less) and ultimately suffer from loss of social contact, which leads to further cognitive decline, depression and other terrible ravages of old age. Now imagine granny keeping the house and still getting out every day to do whatever it is she's always done, without putting anyone out, and without being a menace on the roads. I don't know why, but this is hardly ever mentioned when discussing the relative merits of this sort of technology. It will be incredibly transformative.

bizgrrl's picture

Now imagine granny keeping

Now imagine granny keeping the house and still getting out every day to do whatever it is she's always done, without putting anyone out, and without being a menace on the roads.

You do realize that driving is not the only reason granny should not be out alone? Could granny even summon a car? Could granny tell a car where to go? Grannys need people to help them in many ways. Too bad it's putting people out. Maybe it's the younger set who need driverless cars so they can drink and use social media.

Somebody's picture

Oh, good grief.

There are a lot of grannies (and grandpas) who might be better off not driving, but are perfectly competent to carry on with life’s other activities at their own pace. Most people don’t go from just fine to needing a nursing home in a day. The longer they can stay home and maintain an active life, the better. For a lot of older folks, the day they give up the keys is a traumatic change that makes them instantly dependent on others. No matter how much those other family members and friends care, they usually have their own lives as well, and providing transportation is a compromise that results in diminished autonomy and social contact for the older person. That change can contribute to a more rapid decline for the aging individual. Self-driving cars won’t suddenly end all the difficulties of getting older, but they will make it possible for a lot of folks to remain independent longer, which in itself can contribute to better physical and psychological health for a longer period of time. This is not a trivial thing.

bizgrrl's picture

Alrighty then.

Alrighty then.

cafkia's picture

Tesla does not market or

Tesla does not market or promote their system as a replacement for human drivers. It is currently pushed as a backup for inattentive or incapacitated humans. If you can explain to me how this would have turned out better with a distracted human in control, I'll listen.

Yes, humans are using the system in a manner specifically in opposition to what the car company tells them to. I suspect that the majority of Knoxviews readers can be accused of the same thing WRT accelerators - not all the time but certainly some of the time.

You appear to have a bias against Tesla and the coming wave of autonomous vehicles. I agree that they will most likely not be perfect. However, they will be, and in many situations already are, better than human drivers. As a driver, as a motorcyclist, as a bicyclist, I can assure you in no uncertain terms that I would much rather take my chances with all the other vehicles on the road being operated by Tesla's current system than by humans with smartphones, stereo systems, dates, or children. I fully admit to having been less than perfect in my driving while screaming at the political news emanating from my own radio. Autopilot would have been a better driver right then.

fischbobber's picture

Two, not one.

I thought that's what we were discussing when I entered the fray.The whole and exact details of the most recent accident are sparse and inconclusive.

I thought, however, we were discussing to 2016 incident.

Their similarities speak for themselves.

I stand corrected.

bizgrrl's picture

I have no bias against Tesla

I have no bias against Tesla and the coming wave of autonomous vehicles.

I have bias against companies putting out product that is not fully tested or is not fully explained, e.g. 737 Max.

Based on your description, it's too bad people are no longer expected to drive. Instead they get in a car and don't pay attention to the car and the surroundings. Alas. So many expectations have been lowered. Before they continue lowering expectations, they should come up with replacement tools that work.

I would like people to not just be users but also be interested in the tools they use. Not so much anymore, most people want to be users only.

I'm all for new technology that works. They need to stop doing iterative testing on public roads. Finalize the product a little better.

fischbobber's picture


But, in Tesla's defense, their current version is not supposed to be autonomous, but rather a driver's aid.

And I'm wondering how this driver got it to go 68 in a 55. Hell, my wife's Subaru knows what the speed limit is. If that was the cars fault this should be shut down immediately.

Factchecker's picture

Are modern Subarus really

Are modern Subarus really unable to go past the speed limit that they detect?

fischbobber's picture

Answer is no.

And I had to check with my wife to get the 411. Nor does she recall them beeping, though you can adjust volume and stuff on the beeps, so there might be a beep function that's turned off and we're just missing it.

Subaru beeps for seatbelt shortly after hitting drive mode and beeps until the seatbelt is fastened. It beeps when you leave your lane. It beeps on various back-up hazards. I works pretty good, but it doesn't drive your car.

The speed limit does, though, appear on your dash. So, if you're speeding, it's on you.

Factchecker's picture

It really won't let the

It really won't let the cruise control be set higher than the GPS-reported legal limit on its screen? That seems odd. The libertarians must hate that feature. If nothing else, almost everyone drives at least 5MPH over the limit without worrying about safety or tickets.

fischbobber's picture

Sorry, my bad..

I meant to show that one indeed can go faster than the indicated speed limit on a Subaru if the driver desires. I would presume that includes cruise control.

I would also add though, that any autopilot system that did not include some sort of speed control in the software would seem to me to be lethal by definition. All you need is one bad sensor on the speeding vehicle or a non-speeding vehicle dealing with a speeding vehicle, for something really bad to happen.

And, when you think about it, this is where biz girls concerns really come into play. This stuff works pretty good when everything's working, but there's always going to be that trucking company trying to up profits by cutting back on maintenance.

bizgrrl's picture

Yes, it will allow you to go

Yes, it will allow you to go faster than the GPS indicated speed limit.

fischbobber's picture

This popped up on my facebook.

I follow this issue, for among other reasons, to figure out when my company is going to show all its drivers to the door. CNBC has several interesting reports. This stuff tends to transform into the industry rather quickly once it gets the green light. Under Obama, our company transformed a significant part of it's fleet to CNG and LNG fueled vehicles, and in the process, built a nationwide fueling system to handle this transformation. I look for that process to happen again with Hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicles. The times, they are a changing.


Factchecker's picture

Tesla's EAP can be set up to

Tesla's EAP can be set up to 90MPH on interstates and 5 MPH above speed limit on secondary roads. If no speed limit is detected, max. for those is 45MPH.

When you hear about extremely high speed wrecks in Teslas, claims that it was on EAP are bogus.


bizgrrl's picture

Is there somewhere in the US

Is there somewhere in the US where the speed limit is 90?

Factchecker's picture

Not that I know of. I guess

Not that I know of. I guess it serves the libertarian philosophy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Seems to me like the Venn diagram for Tesla owners is a three equal circle symmetrical intersection of greens, performance car enthusiasts, and very rich. That feature caters well to the latter two groups, I would expect.

fischbobber's picture

85 in Texas.

I think that's the maximum.

fischbobber's picture


I'd just like a vehicle that could legally get me home after a night out on the town without having to worry about bringing home bedbugs from the Uber driver's cars. Those things are nasty.

bizgrrl's picture

CR finds Tesla's new

CR finds Tesla's new automatic lane-changing feature is far less competent than a human driver.

David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports, says that as it currently exists, the automatic lane-change function raises serious safety concerns.

“Tesla is showing what not to do on the path toward self-driving cars: release increasingly automated driving systems that aren’t vetted properly,” he says. “Before selling these systems, automakers should be required to give the public validated evidence of that system’s safety—backed by rigorous simulations, track testing, and the use of safety drivers in real-world conditions.”

Factchecker's picture

CR rap partially fake news?

What CR was criticizing is the feature that allows the user to disable the confirmation of auto-navigate lane changes (done by the car on auto-pilot). The default way is for the car to suggest lane changes and the driver confirms with the turn signal.

Also CR: " I’ve tried all of the systems. They aren’t nearly as capable as Tesla."

bizgrrl's picture

Thanks, I'm glad to see

Thanks. I did read that article. I was/am trying to consider the source of that article, teslarati.

Factchecker's picture

You bet! Teslarati is one of

You bet! Teslarati is one of several enthusiast sites. is another good source of info.

You and the mister ought to drive one. It's probably safe to say that all three models are the safest and most fun cars ever made. You don't have to use or even buy all of the auto-pilot features.

Especially great for trips and as a dog car!

Somebody's picture


Consumer Reports has a tendency to misunderstand new technology, even going so far as to disable or defeat technological enhancements in a misguided attempt to create "fair" A/B comparisons. An example would be taking a notebook computer that enhances battery life by caching data from frequently visited websites to avoid repeatedly downloading and processing the same information over and over. For CR's testing, since the competition doesn't do that, they turn that feature off, and force the notebook to repeatedly download websites until the battery runs out. Then they claim the battery life isn't as good as advertised. It'd be like a restaurant reviewer putting a tablespoon of ketchup on everything they try, and then claiming the fancy restaurant isn't any better than fast food.

fischbobber's picture

For the paranoid.


They weren't able to penetrate the autodriver though. Still, it's creepy. Especially for the trucking industry.

AC's picture

First of all, I would second

First of all, I would second Factchecker recommendation to give a Tesla a spin if you have the chance. It's an amazing vehicle by any metric I think can outperform anything on the road, is tops in comfort, has an amazing sound system, is fun to drive, and is 100% electric. Once you have some personal experience with the car, it definitely changes your perception of a lot of the reports you read out there - especially the naysayers, many of whom also seem to have a clearly vested interest in opposing the kind of change that Tesla and Elon Musk represent. Remember Virginia Postrel's fascinating book back in the 1990s, "The Future and Its Enemies," by chance?
In light of Bizgrrl's original post, I did go back and read my manual about Autopilot. It's a fascinating feature with lots of potential...but there are explicit instructions not to take your eyes off the road or to rely on the car to brake itself. So, the error described in the incident in question was - as is typically the case in auto accidents - human error and negligence...the same kind that leads to the other 5,000,000 auto crashes, 40,000 deaths and millions of injuries each year.
I know that Elon Musk is a polarizing figure and I do understand the skepticism about self-driving cars - but the work that this man is doing - with electric cars, battery capacity, solar power, etc - offers a glimmer of hope for our future. And the future's coming, ready or not. I'm cheering him on.

AC's picture

Those of you genuinely

Those of you genuinely interested in this issue might enjoy reading this blog post from Peter Diamandis. I would especially recommend the section on "How Autopilot Works" and then the next section on "Implications for AI & Robotics." Yes, Diamandis is an unabashed believer but still worth the read.


Somebody's picture


The stats show Tesla with Autopilot is significantly safer than other cars on the road. Then, aggregate “fleet learning” means they will get even safer still.

Back when seatbelts were introduced and then made mandatory in all cars, people would argue against using them, claiming that being ejected from the vehicle during an accident was “safer” than being strapped in. Yes, shoulder belts, crumple-zones, airbags, safety glass, anti-lock brakes, etc* continue to enhance the safety of seatbelts, but imagine if we’d all just accepted that being ‘thrown free’ was the best answer and stopped there.

*and apparently Autopilot

R. Neal's picture

Slowly being assimilated by the borg

Our Rav4 Hybrid Limited has radar cruise control, which is now a must-have feature on any new car I buy. The newest version has full stop and go speed control. Looking forward to that when I trade.

Ours also has "lane keep assist." This is a little gimmicky, but what it does is nudge you back into the lane if you stray outside the white lines. If you stray more than a few times in a few minutes it pops up a little coffee cup icon and says "time for a break?" I mostly keep it turned off, but the newest version has full automatic steering for highway driving. With radar cruise control, that's the next best thing to autopilot but you still control it. I'm looking forward to that, too.

Ours also has automatic emergency braking/collision avoidance, 360 degree proximity sensors with pedestrian and rear cross traffic sensors/alerts, 360 degree birds-eye view parking cameras, side mirror blind-spot sensor/alert and more. All these features are now must-haves for me.

So I'm coming around.

Treehouse's picture


I like the new commercial even if it does co-opt Sound of Silence. I look forward to the new van, the Buzz. Electric that can go 260 miles!

Factchecker's picture

I don't know if VW can ever

I don't know if VW can ever win me back over as a fan, after the "Clean Diesel" fraud. As a buyer, it lost me years ago, along with the other overpriced, unreliable Euro makes.

Best I understand, too, VW has nothing but cool looking concept EVs. No firm models, specs, launch dates, etc. Audi's e-tron is their premium first effort with a battery almost as large as Tesla's that yields 370 miles per full charge in a Model S, but the Audi barely gets 200 miles of range. They and other makers are finding a steep learning curve to Telsa's long lead.

Treehouse's picture


The people have voted against their own best interests again in Tennessee. Voted no on the union. I don't think quality will be good enough for me to buy even though I do like the concept.

Factchecker's picture

Thanks for that update

I didn't know how that turned out, but I'm not surprised given that manufacturers like VW draw up collective bargains (collude) with sleazy governments like the Casada GOP in order to prevent ordinary workers from engaging in collective bargaining.

cafkia's picture

Idiots abound Tesla cannot

Idiots abound

Tesla cannot gain the real world experience/data it needs if it disables the feature. OTOH, if it leaves it enabled humans will abuse it.

Factchecker's picture

Whether that guy is really

Whether that guy is really asleep is being debated. Given rashes of attention seekers, such as the California Prius driver a few years ago who pretended he couldn't slow his car due to an alleged but unproven Toyota flaw, these incidents should be treated with skepticism.

cafkia's picture

Uh, no. Unless the car was

Uh, no.

Unless the car was modified with controls that allowed the human to operate it with his arms/hands down and not apparently on any controls, then even pretending to be sleep would be dangerous. You do not see as well if you close your eyes enough to look like they are completely closed. The checking of mirrors and the immediate surroundings that are the hallmark of a good driver cannot be done whilst appearing, intentionally or otherwise, to be sleep.

I was not there and can't swear to what brain wave activity was going on but, I feel like I am on very firm ground in saying that presenting a believable act of being sleep would seriously degrade your ability to control a car. Perhaps not as much as actually being sleep but easily enough to be a hazard to other traffic on the road.

Factchecker's picture

I saw today that there have

I saw today that there have been several such sightings very recently, the two that I've clicked on both being white cars, even. Not sure now if they were both Model 3s, but yes at least some reports might be accurate that drivers were asleep. Mea Culpa.

But how can they do this? They have to override the car reminder to tug on the wheel every 30 seconds or so, and also ensure they don't wake up dead from various other threats. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

As Lambert states here, falling asleep at the wheel and doing other stupid things that can get one killed didn't start with Autopilot.

Factchecker's picture

Land of the fruits and the nuts

Heh. Jut these two incidents are different white Model 3s, Southern and Northern Cal. And there's another, a black one, featured in the news video.

bizgrrl's picture

Tesla Inc. Chief Executive

Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk is "unhappy" with the progress of developing fully autonomous vehicles, and at least 11 members of the software team have left in the past few months...

Musk is also upset that some employees have said they can't meet the timelines Musk has set for the developing technology,

cafkia's picture

Again, "Perfect is the enemy

Again, "Perfect is the enemy of good enough" and it is the enemy of better. Tens of thousands of people have died because autonomous driving technology would probably kill hundreds of people every year.

I swear I do not understand how this seems reasonable to anyone.

R. Neal's picture

A former Tesla employee is

A former Tesla employee is being sued for downloading data related to the company's Autopilot feature and allegedly taking that data to a Chinese rival company.

Long before he left, Cao began uploading complete copies of Tesla's Autopilot-related source code to his personal iCloud account...


bizgrrl's picture

Isn't it possible that this

Isn't it possible that this type of theft can result in jail time, if prosecuted?

cafkia's picture

LIDAR The development


The development discussed at the link could make a difference. LIDAR,like SONAR or RADAR, depends on a return signal. As such, it can't mistake a white truck for sky or any such thing. Elon Musk was reluctant to have them incorporated into the Tesla for reasons of cost, and I assume complexity, but it certainly has advantages. I would imagine that other manufacturers will be significantly less hesitant to incorporate the technology which will probably drive the cost down even further.

Obviously, the programming is a concern but were this incorporated into a Tesla-esque systems, it would likely mean a projected reduction in accident rate by a factor of ten at least and possibly a hundred or more.

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