Auto analyst says Tesla needs driver monitoring system after most recent crash investigation

Posted at 6:17 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 18:59:36-04

(WXYZ) — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a crash that happened in Detroit involving a Tesla that drove under a semitrailer, critically injuring two people. This case is similar to two crashes involving Tesla's autopilot feature in Florida in 2016 and 2019. Two people died in those incidents.

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The investigation raises questions regarding the safety of Tesla's autopilot driving software and possible changes that need to be made to the function.

Auto analyst John McElroy says one feature Telsas are missing is a monitoring system for the driver.

"The big thing that they've got a problem with is there's not a system that monitors the driver," McElroy said. "There is what they call a torque system on the steering wheel so they can tell if the driver's hands are on the wheel or not, but that doesn't really show if they're paying attention."

McElroy says Cadillac has a similar system called supercruise, but that system has a camera that looks at the driver to see if they're paying attention.

Ford is also coming out with a similar system. The systems in the Cadillac and Ford vehicles will have warnings for drivers who aren't paying attention while on autopilot. By either flashing lights or vibrating the steering wheel and seat, the driver will be warned to pay attention, or the autopilot feature will be interrupted and the car will either slow down or stop completely, McElroy said.

"That's what I think that the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration would like to see, and also the National Transportation Safety Board – something that monitors the driver to make sure they're paying attention," McElroy said of what's needed for Tesla's to address the issue of safety while using autopilot.

McElroy affirms that Tesla's overall system is very good and sophisticated with even more features than GM and Ford, however, changes may be necessary.

"Nonetheless, there's been these disturbing accidents," he said. "We know in some cases that autopilot, that is the Tesla system, was engaged. If in this latest accident it turns out to be the driver's fault, well then Tesla's not to blame for this."