Tesla motors released their Model S in 2013. It was awarded the Motor Trend Car of the Year and quickly outsold every other luxury sedan on the market. However, according to the CEO Elon Musk, the Tesla Model S is still in its "public beta" phase, meaning that some of the technical issues are still being worked out, even as the cars are driven on the road.
It was these issues that led to the a fatal car accident this past May. 40-year-old Joshua Brown was driving his Tesla Model S while using a few of their highly touted Autopilot features, including the Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and the Autosteer features, when his car crashed into the side of a tractor trailer. His car passed through the underside of the truck and hit a utility pole. The Tesla's performance data showed that the car had been travelling 74 mph, almost ten miles over the speed limit, at the time of the crash.
Musk reportedly speculated that the crash was likely caused by a malfunction with the Autopilot system. He believed that the system could not differentiate between the white of the tractor trailer and the bright blue sky beyond.
Not all are satisfied with this explanation. The executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, Clarence Ditlow, had this to say in response; "If you don't have a radar system on a car that can tell you there's a truck ahead of you, there's a problem."
On Tesla's website, they highlight this problematic Autopilot feature on the Model S, stating that with it, the Model S can, "steer within a lane, change lanes, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control." This driving feature does not appear to be available with any of the other Tesla models.
There are many dangers that come with a car system that does all of the driving for you. If a driver knows that his car is the one in control, he may not feel the need to pay attention to the road. He may become more easily distracted and be less aware of his surroundings. The problem with this is, as with Joshua Brown, if that car should ever malfunction, the driver might not be aware of this and might not be able to stop before it's too late.
In the wake of the crash, Consumer Reports has asked Tesla Motors to take steps to prevent fatal crashes in the future, including disabling the automatic steering function and renaming the Autopilot feature. They are worried that other drivers using Autopilot might not be able to react quickly enough to emergency situations. Tesla Motors declined to follow these suggestions.