Vehicle features such as anti-lock brakes and cruise control have been improving driving experiences and safety for decades, but automakers are always looking for ways to make features new and better. With an annual crash fatality rate hovering around 36,000 for the past several years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages automakers’ efforts to add technology that improves safety, including autonomous vehicle development.
According to USA Today, there is some controversy over whether Tesla’s Autopilot technology and other driver-assistive features like it are saving lives.
Autonomous versus semiautonomous
One of the problems with the Autopilot, critics say, is that its name is misleading: The vehicle does not drive itself. Google and others have piloted self-driving cars that are autonomous, but the Tesla vehicles and others like it are semiautonomous. Autopilot provides driver assistance and can work the pedals and steering wheel, but the driver must remain fully engaged. The system even has a sensor that deactivates the function if a driver takes both hands off the wheel.
Inconsistencies between features
Some believe the problem is with drivers’ misconceptions about the vehicles’ abilities. This could be in part due to the differences in function from one vehicle to the next, and inconsistent terms. For example, some collision avoidance systems warn the driver of a possible crash, while other systems apply the brakes if the driver does not respond fast enough.
The human factor often applies, as well. People expect safety features to save them if they make a mistake, so they become careless.
Other people may purchase vehicles like this because they are already careless, and they do not want to put so much of their energy and attention into driving. These drivers may be among the ones who purchased devices to circumvent Autopilot’s safety sensor that disengages the function if the driver’s hands are not on the wheel. The NHTSA has since banned the devices.
When a driver is looking at a cellphone rather than the road, no matter what features the car has, it is always distracted driving, and it is negligent.