For months, if not years, Tesla CEO Elon Musk boasted that there hadn’t yet been one death attributable to a Tesla with Autopilot mode switched on. But earlier this year, we learned that a Tesla driver in Florida was tragically killed when his Model S crashed into a tractor-trailer. It was later revealed that the Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash but that Tesla’s software likely mistook the white trailer for a road sign.
Since then, the number of stories centering on Autopilot-related Tesla crashes have continued to roll in at a steady clip. And even though most of those crashes are not fatal, it has prompted many to question ready or not Tesla’s technology is sufficiently capable of ushering in an era of true autonomous driving.
In the wake of these complaints, Tesla has seemingly implemented a two-pronged approach. First, Tesla has been vocal about stating that some Tesla accidents are a function of drivers using the Autopilot incorrectly, which is to say that they use Autopilot as an excuse to take their eyes off the road. Second, Tesla has implemented various fences around the Autopilot feature to lessen the opportunity for abuse. For example, Tesla cars will now alert a driver if they’ve gone too long without putting their hands on the wheel. If such alerts are ignored, auto-steering will eventually turn itself off.
Having said all that, Germany’s transport minister Alexander Dobrindt all but demanded that Tesla stop using the phrase “Autopilot”, arguing that it was incredibly misleading insofar as it leads customers to believe that their Tesla vehicles are safer more autonomously capable than they really are.
In light of that, Tesla recently hired a third-party survey company in an effort to ascertain if its owners truly grasp the capabilities and limitations of the Autopilot feature. As Tesla notes, “98% of customers surveyed said they understand that when using Autopilot, the driver is expected to maintain control of the vehicle at all times.”
The survey firm’s results read in part:
A significant majority of german Tesla customers understand the meaning and functions of the Autopilot. On the one hand they are aware of the car warnings that Tesla provides, on the other hand the customers also know that they have to keep control over their car.
Different to what is heard in the media, Tesla owners absorb the information that appears on the center screen of the car. Besides that the name “Autopilot” did not cause the customers to believe that the car is fully autonomous.
Based on the warnings about 98% of the current Tesla owners understand to maintain control of the vehicle at all times.
The survey’s results can be read in their entirety over here.