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Tesla boss Elon Musk has said the company has no plans to turn off its autopilot feature after the beta system was implicated in another accident.
This follows another, non-fatal crash in a rural part of the western US, when a Tesla Model X veered off the road and struck a wooden post.
The driver, who identified himself only by the surname Pang, is said to have confirmed to police that his hands were not on the wheel at the time. He claimed he had not responded to audio warnings that his hands were off the wheel because the commands were in English and he spoke only Mandarin.
However, it has since been alleged that the driver of the vehicle may have been watching a movie on a portable DVD player at the time, and was not paying attention to the road.
Both of these accidents now appear to have happened, in part, because drivers were not following instructions on the use of the autopilot feature from Tesla, which state that drivers retain responsibility for their vehicle at all times, and must keep their hands on the wheel.
Autopilot is not a feature designed to allow fully-autonomous driving, but instead to assist with lane changes and cruise control at high speeds on motorways.
Musk reiterated his commitment to driver safety but told the Wall Street Journal that he had no plans to turn off the autopilot feature, and doubled down on efforts to educate and inform Tesla’s users about how the autopilot feature works and should be used.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it is and how you turn it on,” Musk told the newspaper.
Read more about autonomous cars
- Jaguar Land Rover invests £5.5m in a 41-mile ‘living laboratory’ to test and develop connected and autonomous vehicle technology.
- Highways England sets out strategy for connected vehicles and promises to test fully-autonomous cars on motorway network in 2017.
- Swedish auto manufacturer Volvo is to begin trials of autonomous driving on the streets of London in 2017, using 100 family vehicles in real-life situations.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed it is investigating Tesla over the fatal crash.
In a letter sent to the company’s director of field performance engineering, Mathew Schwall, the NHTSA said it would examine the performance of the automatic emergency braking system and other forward crash avoidance systems that were enabled and in use at the time of the incident.
Telsa has been asked to provide information on aspects of every vehicle it has ever produced, including data on total mileage driven with traffic-aware cruise control and autosteer activated, the number of automatic braking events recorded, and the number of hands on wheel warnings activated, among other things.
Tesla’s autopilot feature is currently available, and well in use, on roads around the UK and Europe. However, since the fatal accident came to light, the German government has said it would not have approved a beta version of such a technology on its roads. EU approval for autopilot was gained in the Netherlands.
Earlier this week, the UK government announced a package of legal reforms covering road safety in light of the increasing number of autonomous cars being tested in public settings.
The upcoming Modern Transport Bill will change the law around motor insurance cover to provide product liability for automated vehicles, which means crash victims will be compensated in the usual way, but insurance companies will be able to claim money back from car manufacturers if the accident was the result of vehicle action.
“Our roads are already some of the safest in the world and increasing advanced driver assist and driverless technologies have the potential to help cut the number of accidents further,” said transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.