Second autopilot equipped Tesla crashes in China

| Transport

TRL comments on the need for continued vigilence of drivers when using semi-autonomous technology as demonstrated by second Tesla crash.

A month after a fatal crash involving a Tesla with Autopilot technology in the USA, a similar vehicle has been involved in a collision in Beijing. In this latest incident, the driver told news reporters that his hands had been off the wheel at the time of the collision but the car’s self-driving functionality had been a key aspect of his purchasing decision.

Tesla emphasises that the autopilot function doesn’t represent full autonomy and that the driver should always remain in control. To bolster this message, the company has now dropped its “autopilot” terminology from the Chinese website, according to Reuters new agency.

In the UK, commenting on the latest crash involving a Tesla, TRL’s chief scientist, engineering and technology, Richard Cuerden said, “The latest Tesla autopilot collision in China further highlights potential issues around the use of automated systems, particularly in cases where the driver is still required to remain alert and attentive at the controls of the vehicle.

“The Society of Automotive Engineers currently specifies five levels of vehicle automation. Tesla’s autopilot system is classified as level two automation, which means the driver is required to maintain alertness and be ready at the controls, even in autopilot mode. This presents well-known challenges in terms of drivers’ awareness and understanding of the capabilities of the automation systems and the process by which control is shared and shifted between the driver and the vehicle in different modes of automated operation.

“We are going to see more collisions like this where, for whatever reason, the driver and the technology didn’t identify and react to the threat. What we need to do now is understand why the vehicle made the decisions it did and act accordingly. This is where projects like MOVE_UK, which will compare the behaviour of automated systems to human drivers, can really help. By understanding what went wrong and why, we can quickly teach collision avoidance systems to better predict any risks in real life environments.

“At the same time, it’s vital that drivers of vehicles with automated functionality remain aware and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer, so that incidents like the one in China can be avoided as we discover more about this new technology.”

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