A new study has revealed 33% of drivers are distracted and don’t have their hands on the wheel when resuming manual control of the self-driving cars.
The news dropped right before Tesla CEO Elon Musk made some interesting safety announcements on the company’s autonomous driving system, when an MIT report showed Tesla drivers become more distracted and disconnected when they initiate the vehicle’s semi-autonomous autopilot feature.
The findings prompted them to request the company take further steps to ensure drivers remain more alert to the road and their surroundings rather than switch off entirely.
While a Tesla is designed to essentially drive itself, which includes staying in its appropriate lane and keeping up with traffic, there is still the need for users to stay alert and take control of the vehicle at any given moment.
Studies show around a third of test drivers aren’t ready to grab the wheel and are instead busy glancing out the window at anything but the dangers of the road ahead, CNN reports.
‘We put the research out there for people to start pondering about, ‘Wait a second, what’s going on here?” Bryan Reimer, associated director of the New England University Transportation Center at MIT, said.
Responding to the study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said: ‘The most advanced vehicle technologies available to consumers today provide driver assistance and require a fully attentive human driver at all times performing the driving task and monitoring the surrounding environment. Abusing these technologies is, at a minimum, distracted driving.’
Tesla themselves declined to respond to the claim, but the news comes as Musk announced the current autopilot software was about to be re-written. ‘The improvements kind of started tailing off, and just not getting where they need to be,’ he said.
The technological tweaks hardly come as a surprise, considering the ambitiousness of the project itself, not to mention the enormous goals Musk set for the company in 2017, where he claimed they’d have a Tesla drive across America, though it never materialised. Similarly, he boldly said there would be a million self-driving robotaxis on the roads by the end of 2020, but again that looks extremely unlikely seeing as we are almost in October.
On top of the big promises and user distractions, it’s the autopilot function itself that has been blamed for causing several deaths. In 2018, Walter Huang died after crashing his Model X on a Californian highway while he was playing a game on his mobile phone, relying on the autopilot. Similarly in 2017, Joshua Brown died after his Tesla crashed into a tractor trailer while on autopilot, so there’s clearly still a lot of work for Musk and co. to do.
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