While Elon Musk has been all too eager to take credit for when the Tesla autopilot works as it is designed, he has repeatedly warned that it is the driver's responsibility - even though regulators have cleared the autopilot system - to ensure the self-driving car does not do stupid things. Such as this one, first reported by Electrek: several days ago, a Model S ran into a highway barrier at a construction zone near Dallas, after it failed to recognize the roadway and merge into another lane. The result: an unhappy driver and a mangled car. Conveniently, it was all caught on the dashcam of the car behind.
The unhappy driver took to Reddit to air his grievance against his car's autopilot:
So I was driving in the left lane of a two lane highway. The car is AP1 and I've never had any problems until today. Autopilot was on didn't give me a warning. It misread the road and hit the barrier. After the airbags deployed there was a bunch of smoke and my car rolled to a grinding stop. Thankfully no one was hurt and I walked away with only bruises.
The road was curving right and it stayed straight. By that I mean my best guess is that the AP sensors didn't catch the curve.
The side of the diverted road appears to come up pretty abruptly, but that is not something a driver paying attention to the road couldn’t have swiftly addressed, the auto pilot on the other hand... The driver said the vehicle’s Forward Collision Warning didn’t initiate, which would’ve alerted the driver in some fashion if an object is within the vehicle’s path.
As Electrek explains, "what potentially didn’t work is the ‘Forward Collision Warning’ feature since the driver claims that there was no warning. Some would assume that Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) should have kicked in, but it’s actually not designed to engage if there’s an alternative and in this case, the vehicle wasn’t supposed to brake in order to avoid the barrier – it could have been even more dangerous considering a vehicle was close behind and there was traffic to the right of the vehicle."
The unnamed driver posted a photo of the immediate aftermath.
Three things went wrong here and if any one of them hadn’t, this collision wouldn’t have happened.
- The road construction was poorly implemented. Looking at this footage, you can see that the construction comes up relatively quick and the lane markers go right into the wall. Usually there are cones and signs leading up to the cutover. That’s confusing to humans as well as vehicles.
- The driver should have been awake at the wheel and looking forward. Had he been alert, he could have easily taken over in time to steer the car to the right. Clearly he wasn’t alert in this instance with his hands on the wheel per Tesla’s instructions.
- The vehicle theoretically should have detected the upcoming wall and either stopped or freaked out in some way. We don’t know if it started beeping ahead of the collision inside the vehicle since the driver’s story is already suspect. In traffic, the car could have decided it was less risky to sideswipe the wall rather than cut over into what it perceived as another lane of traffic. More importantly, Tesla doesn’t advertise that its cars should be considered level 4 or 5 autonomous but to get there, it will need to make the cars smart enough to handle this type of situation.
Whether it was the driver's fault for not responding and having faith in the car self-driving abilities, or the auto-pilot for failing to notify the driver of the sudden change in driving conditions and/or taking an appropriate response remains to be determined. For now, however, the clip above is a stark reminder how everything can go wrong inside a self-driving Tesla in the span of milliseconds.