Adding to the ongoing discussion this week about a fatal Tesla wreck in Houston where two men died, Consumer Reports has come out and dropped a bombshell on Thursday, independently corroborating the notion that Tesla Model Y's can drive themselves with no one in the drivers seat.
Consumer Reports said it could “easily get the car to drive even with no one in the driver’s seat,” according to CNBC. The auto reviewer said it was able to trick the system by putting a weighted chain on the steering wheel and keeping the seatbelt buckled.
Consumer Reports’ senior director of auto testing, Jake Fisher, told CNBC: “In our test, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention -- it couldn’t even tell if there was a driver there at all.”
Consumer Reports posted video of, and detailed how they ran, their test:
Fisher engaged Autopilot while the car was in motion on the track, then set the speed dial (on the right spoke of the steering wheel) to 0, which brought the car to a complete stop. Fisher next placed a small, weighted chain on the steering wheel, to simulate the weight of a driver’s hand, and slid over into the front passenger seat without opening any of the vehicle’s doors, because that would disengage Autopilot. Using the same steering wheel dial, which controls multiple functions in addition to Autopilot’s speed, Fisher reached over and was able to accelerate the vehicle from a full stop. He stopped the vehicle by dialing the speed back down to zero.
Fisher commented: “The car drove up and down the half-mile lane of our track, repeatedly, never noting that no one was in the driver’s seat, never noting that there was no one touching the steering wheel, never noting there was no weight on the seat. It was a bit frightening when we realized how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient.”
Consumer Reports also said that Tesla's Autopilot can operate where there is no lane lines, which was the case in the Houston wreck.
“Any system that looks at lane lines can be tricked. They may see something as a lane line that is not, like a car strip, a curb may be interpreted as landline and so on.” Fisher continued: “Tesla is falling behind other automakers like GM and Ford that use technology to make sure the driver is looking at the road on models with advanced driver assist systems.”
Additionally on Thursday, Bloomberg reported that several Senators had "raised questions about Tesla safety" in a new letter to the NHTSA. Senators Blumenthal and Markey expressed concerns about a "possible emerging pattern" of safety concerns - to which we reply: where have you been the last 2 years?
Recall, yesterday we noted that one of the men who died in the fiery Houston Tesla wreck that we have been reporting on over the last few days has been identified as 59-year-old Dr. William Varner. Varner was a doctor at the local Memorial Hermann Health System. The health system released a statement on his death overnight heading into Wednesday, stating:
"Dr. Varner was a tremendous human being who personally impacted many throughout our Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center family over the years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family, and also to those who had the privilege of working and serving alongside him in various capacities. He will be dearly missed by so many."
Recall, Mark Herman, Harris County Constable Precinct 4, told Reuters that the police will serve search warrants on Tesla to secure data from the wreck.
He was responding to a tweet by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who said, "Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled." Herman appeared quite skeptical: "If he is tweeting that out, if he has already pulled the data, he hasn't told us that" Herman told Reuters. "We will eagerly wait for that data."
“We have witness statements from people that said they left to test drive the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how it can drive itself,” Herman said according to the Reuters report.
Recall, the Tesla slammed into a tree near Hammock Dunes Place in the Houston Area, a local NBC affiliate reported. The wreck was in the "Carlton Woods subdivision near the Woodlands," the report says. According to authorities, "the vehicle failed to negotiate a cul-de-sac turn, ran off the road and hit the tree."
Of the two occupants, one was seated in the passenger seat of the front of the car while the other was seated in the passenger seat of the back of the car. NBC says it is "trying to determine whether the vehicle may have been in automatic driving mode due to the victims’ seating, but that information is not available yet."
A reported 23,000 gallons of water needed to be used to extinguish the flames because the Tesla's battery "kept reigniting". Two federal agencies will investigate the deadly crash of a Tesla Model S over the weekend near Houston, Texas, in which local authorities said no one was behind the wheel.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are aware of the fatal Tesla crash that killed two, which occurred on Saturday night in Spring, Texas. Both agencies are sending investigators to conduct a safety analysis.
"NHTSA is aware of the tragic crash involving a Tesla vehicle outside of Houston, Texas. NHTSA has immediately launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash. We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information," the NHTSA told local news KHOU11 in a statement.
And the NTSB tweeted Monday afternoon that their investigation team, "in coordination with the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office," will "conduct a safety investigation of the fatal Apr. 17, 2021, Tesla vehicle crash near Spring, TX."
NTSB also said their "investigation would focus on the vehicle's operation and the post-crash fire. NTSB investigators will arrive in the area later this afternoon."