U.S. Senator Ed Markey Thinks Autopilot Should Be Disabled

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U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts thinks Autopilot should be disabled because some people abuse it. He thinks Tesla should come up with a way to prevent people from misusing its feature, and at first glance, this could seem reasonable, until one actually does research. Let me explain.

Teslas are not the only cars with some type of driver-assist system. VW has automatic lane assist — and even though it’s not Autopilot, there are hacks to make it into a “self-driving car” — even though it’s far from capable of driving itself safely in all situations.

The senator referenced a video — mostly likely the one in Massachusetts of the guy who “fell asleep” while Autopilot was engaged. If, in fact, the video is that one in Massachusetts, then the Senator should definitely look at the police report. The Massachusetts State Police told WHDSH Boston that the “police are aware of the video but no report has been filed,” meaning that an accident wasn’t reported. So, the video was most likely faked, or the driver woke up and took over. If the video was faked, then the driver was either using a nag hack or ignoring the nags. The senator seems to have taken this into consideration when he made his statement:

“That’s not safe. Somebody is going to die because they can go to YouTube as a driver — find a way to (get around safety requirements). We can’t entrust the lives of our drivers and everyone else on the road to a water bottle.” —Senator Markey

Despite the criticism against the senator for his stance, I do want to point out that he cited the fact that the drivers are going to YouTube to find ways around safety requirements. He thinks Tesla should fully disable Autopilot until it can prevent people from hacking the system. I totally get where he’s coming from — Autopilot is new and is still evolving — yet there has been so much media attention towards it and Tesla, so he probably has been listening to a lot of the common mass-manufactured FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) industries and people threatened by Tesla have been spreading, such as oil companies Markey has been trying to reign in for years.

If the FUD campaigns were the only source you were getting your information from, it is safe to say that you would make a decision based on this misleading info. And instead of doing research, you would probably be reacting from an emotional sense instead of a rational one. Meaning, one wouldn’t even think to research any further than the news article they just read online. Markey wants Tesla to take control of the situation, but what he fails to realize is that when it comes to actual drowsy driving, that is a true epidemic on a crisis scale. In 2013, 1 in 25 adult drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel, according to the CDC. This causes many deaths a year. If Autopilot can prevent some of those, all the better!

In an article by Tesmanian, author Eva Fox highlights some important information that was published by Tesla’s own vehicle safety report for Q1 2019.

“Now let’s look at the facts. In April, Tesla released the results of its vehicle safety report for the Q1 of 2019. According to the report, Tesla cars without Autopilot got into one accident for every 1.76 million miles. At the same time, the same report showed that vehicles using the Autopilot functions had an accident after every 2.87 million miles.

“’In the 1st quarter, we registered one accident for every 2.87 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot, we registered one accident for every 1.76 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 436,000 miles.’

“Let’s look at the numbers published in the Tesla Q4 of 2018 report on vehicle safety. One accident at 2.91 million miles with Autopilot and one at 1.58 million miles without Autopilot.” —Tesmanian

Tesmanian also found a video that shows exactly what Autopilot does when you misuse it.

It would be a great thing for Tesla to figure out a way to stop people from using nag hacks, but it would also be great if YouTube banned uploads of “how-to-disable [safety feature]” videos. Tesla isn’t the only company with this issue. Perhaps if we are going to demand Tesla to disable Autopilot, then we should also demand other automakers to disable cruise control because people don’t want to obey rules.

Senator Ed Markey

A great example of this is the screenshot of a video (above). The author wanted to turn his VW car into a self-driving car, so he posted a video showing you how to trick the active lane assist with a bottle of water. Unlike actual Autopilot, this “self-driving” VW is way more dangerous because it doesn’t have the technology that will warn you or prevent you from being hit by another car, and it simply can’t drive itself as well. How come there is no outrage over this? How come we don’t have government officials demanding VW disable active lane assist until they stop people from misusing it?

Punishing Tesla and Tesla owners isn’t the answer. Autopilot has saved more lives than it has taken, yet people condemn it. In comparison, guns are heavily defended even though people use them to shoot children at schools. I think, as a nation, our priorities are a bit mixed up. We should applaud Tesla for creating life-saving technology while figuring out a solution to our gun problem. But it’s easier to pick on Tesla than it is to solve a gun crisis.

Senator Markey has a point — people need to stop abusing the system. I agree with him on that. I don’t agree that disabling Autopilot is the solution. However, if Tesla had a way to monitor the way people use Autopilot, we could have a solution. No, not spy on you, but something different.

Everyone has different driving habits. Even though I don’t drive, I can imagine that no one is going to have their hands in the exact same position on a steering wheel for X amount of time. People move. You may have to sneeze, scratch your nose, run your hand through your hair, take a sip of your water, etc. Perhaps if Tesla could figure out a way to tell the difference between someone actually having their hands on a steering wheel versus a weighted object then this could help. Maybe installing or creating a software that would notice the difference between a weighted object and someone’s hands.

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Johnna Crider

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

Johnna Crider has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Johnna Crider