Tesla's Autopilot Under Critics After Second Crash

On Thursday, July 14, U.S. magazine Consumer Reports called on Tesla Motors Inc to disable its automatic steering function in its autopilot partial self-driving system that's under investigation by U.S. officials after a deadly accident.

Tesla has rolled out its autopilot driving technology in a "beta-test." The move forces automakers and safety agencies to reassess the basic relationship between increasingly sophisticated cars and human drivers.

The magazine Consumer Reports states that that Tesla should block its autopilot steering technology and rebrand it.  According to the same publication the name autopilot is "misleading and potentially dangerous." After Tesla is already under investigation, the critics coming from the magazine are giving another blow to the image of the automaker's self-driving technology.

The automatic steering portion of autopilot has the role to automatically steer, accelerate and brake Tesla vehicles on lane-marked highways. The publication asks that the feature should be deactivated until it is reprogrammed to make it mandatory for drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

Tesla Motors' autopilot system is now under intense scrutiny following a series of crashes, one of which was fatal. According to USA Today, the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has already launched investigations into the crash of 40-year-old Ohio resident Joshua Brown. Brown was killed when his Tesla Model S slammed into a truck while having its autopilot activated.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested Tesla detailed information about its autopilot system in a letter sent last week. The NHTSA is asking for detailed logs of when the system has prompted drivers to take over steering, as well as any design changes and updates to the system. The Wall Street Journal also reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Tesla did not announce its investors about the crash in a timely fashion.

Tesla's autopilot technology comprises multiple systems, including Auto Lane Change and Autosteer. These systems use radar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors to automatically change lanes, steer down the highway and adjust speed in response to traffic.

While Tesla Motors claims these features can reduce the driver's workload and help the vehicle avoid hazards, the series of recent crashed have given a different image. The incident has caused safety advocates to question whether the name autopilot promoted a dangerously premature assumption that the system is capable of truly driving on its own.

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