Many consumers misunderstand how to use Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist technology, according to a survey released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The survey of more than 2,000 consumers found drivers also were confused by other driver-assist systems such as Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, Cadillac’s Super Cruise, advertised as “hands-free driving,” and BMW’s Driving Assistant Plus.
When asked about Autopilot, 48 percent of those surveyed thought it would be safe to take one’s hands off the wheel while using the system. The technology had substantially more participants who thought it would be safe to look at scenery, read a book or use a cellphone. Six percent thought it would be safe to take a nap.
IIHS said in a statement that “the names manufacturers use for these systems can send the wrong messages to drivers regarding how attentive they should be.”
“People are misinterpreting terms and assuming [driver-assist technology] can do more than it really can,” said IIHS President David Harkey.
Designating technology as automated in its name — rather than a driver-assist feature — introduces new and unnecessary risks to drivers and passengers, Harkey said.
In March, a driver of a Tesla Model 3 died when the vehicle, using Autopilot, crashed into the side of a tractor-trailer in Florida. The Tesla vehicle did not detect the driver’s hand on the wheel at the time of impact.
Autopilot “is not intended to be hands free,” Harkey said. “Even though Tesla makes that very clear in the manual, that message is not being conveyed to all users.”
NBC TV’s Los Angeles affiliate on June 13 broadcast video of a man who appeared to be sleeping at the wheel of his Tesla for at least 30 miles on Interstate 405 in Orange County, Calif.
“I realized he was fully sleeping,” Shawn Miladinovich, who took the video, told NBC4. “Eyes shut, hands nowhere near the steering wheel.”
Another IIHS finding showed participants failed to understand some information presented by driver-assist technology system displays.
Most participants couldn’t understand what was happening when the system failed to detect a vehicle ahead, the institute said.
“Although systems ideally should be intuitive, providing an orientation at the dealership could also help,” the statement said.
“How the system actually functions and the information it provides while in use is really important,” Harkey said. “We want original equipment manufacturers to understand there have to be ways to convey to the user when the system that you have turned on is temporarily inactive for some reason.”
He added: “If the lane lines have disappeared and it can no longer see them or whether the radar can no longer detect the vehicle in front of them, there have to be better ways for the OEMs to convey that information because it’s certainly not always being shown properly through the instrument panel.”
J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study released Wednesday cited increased consumer problems with driver-assist systems as one of the reasons the quality of 2019 models was unchanged from that of 2018 models.
Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, said the technology is “critical for building consumer trust in future automated vehicles.”
More brands fell in quality than improved in the last year, J.D. Power said in its release.