Consumer Reports finds Tesla Autopilot works with no one in the driver seat

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Tesla is in the news again about another deadly crash involving one of its cars, in this case the Model S.

It happened in Texas last weekend and both Model S occupants were killed. On-site investigators are confident that none of the deceased occupants were in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash (one in the passenger seat and the other in the back seat). In addition, witnesses told police that the accident occurred shortly after the victims left a home and said they would test the automated driving skills.

That “automated driving capability” is Tesla’s well-known “Autopilot” driver assistance system. Elon Musk has tweeted that the company’s data shows that the vehicle did not run on Autopilot and that the car was not equipped with the company’s more advanced, but still hands-on driver assistance (confusingly called “Full Self-Driving”) . His tweet was also in response to a comment saying the feature couldn’t be activated without someone behind the wheel. He added that lane lines had to be in place for the system to turn on. All that aside, it remains unknown if the system was deactivated prior to the crash after it was previously turned on.

Your research as a private individual is better than professionals @WSJ!

Data logs recovered so far show that Autopilot was not engaged and this car did not purchase an FSD.

Additionally, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.

– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 19, 2021

Consumer Reports decided to reverse the main claim that none of the occupants were in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash to see if Tesla’s cars would allow Autopilot to operate while no one was in the driver’s seat. CR used his closed test track and the model Y he owns to conduct the test.

The short answer is yes. The autopilot will remain engaged and will function even though there is no one in the driver’s seat. All consumer reports had to make the Model Y believe someone was sitting in the seat, holding the seat belt and placing a weighted chain around the handlebars. This simulated a driver’s hand on the wheel and kept the autopilot from disengaging. The test driver for the experiment remained in the passenger seat to safely accelerate and slow the car by reaching for the pedals with his leg across the road.

You can read the full story on the Consumer Reports website, and we highly recommend that you do that as they provide much more detail and additional background on the experiment setup and results.

Tesla’s driver monitoring system for its advanced Autopilot technology is different from similar systems out there in that it relies entirely on the steering wheel to stay on. Companies such as GM, Ford and BMW use camera-controlled surveillance systems to ensure that the driver’s eyes are looking at the road. Meanwhile, Tesla’s system doesn’t even get anyone behind the wheel.

We will continue to monitor this crash investigation and will bring you updates as soon as they arrive.

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