Tesla… one more time

Ok, promised I wouldn’t write about Tesla for a while…

…unless something interesting appeared worthy of talking about.

Over at jalopnik.com, Jennings Brown writes about:

Tesla autopilot malfunction caused crash that killed Apple engineer, lawsuit alleges

At the risk of giving away everything in the article, the family of Mr.
Walter Huang, an Apple engineer, filed a lawsuit against Tesla because Mr. Huang’s Tesla Model X, while on autopilot, crashed into a median wall and killed Mr. Huang.

The family, as the lawsuit alleges, feel Tesla’s autopilot feature is to blame for Mr. Huang’s death.

Reading the article, one feels a great deal of sympathy for Mr. Huang’s family. It is indeed a tragedy whenever anyone dies, whether by natural causes or accident. Worse yet if, as the lawsuit alleges, by a malfunction of a product.

However, one line in the article I found very interesting (the bold lettering was added by me):

In a blog post published a week after the crash, Tesla said that the car gave Huang one audible alert and several visual alerts throughout his drive that morning, and the car detected that his hands were not on the wheel for the six seconds leading up to the wreck. “The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken,” the blog states.

As I’ve mentioned before (and it must get boring or bordering on bragging on my part by now!), I recently purchased a Tesla Model 3. I’m absolutely delighted with the car. I have been experimenting with the auto-pilot feature and find it absolutely terrific.

However, I realized rather quickly the auto-pilot feature, as wonderful as it was, was not a full self-driving feature.

There is a difference.

The auto-pilot is effectively a better version of cruise control. It drives the car by following road signs and cars around you and, especially, in front of you.

But it is far from infallible.

If the road lines are too faded or not there, the car will lose track of the road. If you are not behind another vehicle when approaching a red light, the car will cross the intersection as it does not at this point “read” lights or stop signs.

In the case of Mr. Huang, I suspect (and this is all it is, a suspicion) that he either dozed off or had some kind of problem which prevented him from realizing the situation he was in.

While it may not seem like much time, not having your hand on the steering where for six seconds before the crash is an awful long time. Don’t believe me? Count down six seconds: One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…

In that time and had he been paying attention, Mr. Huang should have seen the dangerous situation he was in.

When I’ve used the auto-pilot feature, there have been times the car has lost track of the road and I’ve had to take sudden control. It is quite easy to do so, by the way. Tap on the brake, turn the steering wheel. You instantly regain control over your car. Further, the car makes a very loud noise to alert you if the autopilot feature is experiencing difficulty.

But most important is that you have to anticipate where potential problems may lie, especially when using the feature. Curvy roads. Upcoming road-work. Pedestrians. Other cars around you that may try to merge into your lane.

You need to pay attention to all those things. Just because you’re in an “autopilot” mode doesn’t mean you can doze off or no longer pay attention.

Again, I have a great deal of sympathy to the family of Mr. Huang. I can’t imagine the agony they’re going through having lost him.

But I wonder if maybe, just maybe, the fault more lies in his inattention moments before the wreck rather than Tesla’s autopilot.