back to article Tesla driver charged with vehicular manslaughter after deadly Autopilot crash

A Tesla driver has seemingly become the first person in the US to be charged with vehicular manslaughter for a deadly crash in which the vehicle's Autopilot mode was engaged. According to the cops, the driver exited a highway in his Tesla Model S, ran a red light, and smashed into a Honda Civic at an intersection in Gardena, …

  1. Sykowasp

    Autopilot has never been advertised as auto-stopping at red lights, right? (this is correct, if you're wondering)

    So autopilot is pretty irrelevant, the driver should have taken control prior to the red lights.

    So seems a fair charge to me.

    Nothing to do with Tesla or autopilot.

    1. Lars Silver badge

      "Nothing to do with Tesla or autopilot.".

      No that's too easy, it's all about Tesla and how they are marketing the autopilot. In fact the first error is in the "auto".

      I could well understand if some chap got this silly idea that the car will also detect trafic lights.

      And if you want to know the morale behind it all, look for the small print pointing out that the auto will not detect traffic lights fully automatically.

      I would fine Tesla and not that poor sod. Stupidity is not a sin and not prohibited in law. But just this once.

      1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

        "In fact the first error is in the "auto""

        That is too easy too. I agree that the Tesla should be sued for their advertising (or better still lead the marketing manager round the back of the barn as a warning to others) but that doesn't change the fact this 'poor sod' killed two people.

        If it is deemed just a stupid act he should be let off? Hell no.

        Either he was ignorant having not read the manual for his 2 ton killing machine, and as we know ignorance is no defense. Or he knew and wasn't paying attention anyway which is certainly criminally negligent.

        1. msknight

          Well, here's another problem. Tesla is supposed to see and slow for traffic lights, I believe.

          ...but... if the Tesla fails to observe and slow for lights, then how much extra delay is there for the driver to notice the failure and then act themselves to correct for it? That, in my view, adds too much extra time into the equation.

          Even if he did have his hands on the wheel and was paying attention, overshoot to some degree seems inevitable.

          1. jpo234

            That's FSD which wasn't even available in 2019.

            1. Pink Duck


              FSD has been around since Sept 2016. However, the Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control FSD feature wasn't available until 6th December 2020 firmware release at the earliest. The crash happened late 2019, so only standard AutoPilot in use (completely unaware of red lights and yield signs).

              1. Dave 15

                Re: Actually…

                What does FSD stand for?

                I think most people believe it is full self driving.

                Now how the hell can it be full self driving if it doesnt know about traffic lights?

                1. Stoneshop

                  What does FSD stand for?

                  The D is for 'deception', 'delirious' or 'decrepit'. Expand F and S to your liking, possibly forming a semantically correct exclamation that way.

              2. Reaps

                Re: Actually…

                "FSD has been around since Sept 2016. However, the Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control FSD feature wasn't available until 6th December 2020 firmware release at the earliest."

                if this is true, someone at the top of the company needs arresting

          2. big_D Silver badge

            Overshoot at a speed high enough to cross the intersection and kill 2 people sitting in a protective cage?

            Sorry, no. If he was paying attention, he would have noticed the vehicle hadn't slowed down when approaching the lights, let alone as he reached the lights. To still be going fast enough through the intersection to kill someone? He must have not looked at the road for a good 20 seconds (off ramp, approach to traffic lights, going through the traffic lights).

            If the other party was already in the intersection he entered on red, then several seconds had passed between his direction being shown a red light and him actually entering the intersection. (Unless there was a traffic jam and the victims were sitting in the intersection, in which case he would have seen that even sooner and would have applied the brakes even sooner, if he was paying any attention at all.)

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Having been driven around by other people, I still get twitchy when they don't start noticeably slowing down at a point on the road by which I would have been definitely doing so.

              1. big_D Silver badge

                I've driven a few cars with lane-assist and it can be quite frightening at times (Kia Nero, Nissan Leaf, Skoda Superb/Octavia, VW Passat).

                All of them have problems with the roads near me. The roads have been patched and repaired and all the Skodas and VWs will go up an off-ramp, then try and yank the steering wheel out of your hand to follow a tar repair-line to the grass bank leading back down to the dual-carriageway.

                Likewise, all of them, mistake the tar lines at the end of the dual carriageway in the other direction and try and put the car into the central reservation.

                The first time, I wondered what the hell was going on, I was in a Skoda, hadn't used cruise control etc. but the general lane-keeping feature was turned on by default. As I left the dual-carriageway, the car suddenly tried to lurch back left and I had to fight the wheel. Then, a couple of Ks further on, I went down a narrow, twisty country road and it did it again!

                If I owned one of these cars, I think the assist features would be the first thing I'd turn off. Having experienced them from several manufacturers, they are certainly not something I'd pay extra for.

                My Nissan has a lane divergence warning (it beeps if I cross the white line) and emergency braking assist. The lane divergence is about 80% accurate and the emergency braking assist leaves the warning way too late for my liking, let alone actually kicking in the brakes - I've never had enought confidence in it to not brake and see whether it will actually stop in time!

                1. adam 40 Silver badge

                  Hire cars

                  Good point, I expect hire cars could have these features (already?)

                  And is something unexpected happens, good bye car - and driver.

                  Do hire car companies always set cars to "default safe" settings on every hire?

                  1. big_D Silver badge

                    Re: Hire cars

                    The Octavia was my daughter's boyfriend's car. The Superb and Passat were a pool car at the office and my boss' car. The Kia and Nissan were demonstrators from local dealerships.

                  2. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Hire cars

                    Do hire car companies always set cars to "default safe" settings on every hire?

                    I believe some moron has made it a legal requirement that you cannot kill these things off permanently, so if the features are not as wonderful as advertised you have to kill them off every. single. time. you turn on the ignition. I don't know who came up with this idea, but given my experience with most driver assist systems, the aformentioned idiot repeated deserves percussive education.

                    Let's take lane assist. Most lane assists take this job very literal and keep you in the lan, as in "nicely between the lines on the ROAD" as opposed to nicely in the lane of TRAFFIC which is what it should do. In other words, it's about as far away from "intelligent" as you can get - even the most moronic driver would do this better. I cannot see how this can be deemed conributing to your safety - it frequently achieves the opposite.

                    If you approach something like a HGV which has a wide load or is otherwise near or even on the centre line, the "assist" will happily try to run you into the edge that sticks out. Depending on the car, that means it's either just vibrating the steering wheel or is even actively yanking the wheel towards the danger.

                    Next, proximity breaking. This default means that you have a device in your car that can independently stomp on the brakes if it sees something suspicious. First off, it only looks at the front. Granted, the person behind you should keep distance but that's not always possible in traffic AND (and this is important) you can still get a legal problem if you go and stand on your brakes for no apparent reason. Which is what this system can do, and does.

                    Next, it's only a basic computer which has nowhere near the ability of a human to assess COMPLEX situations. I've had a Hyundai Kona hybrid go full on the brakes in Central London going across a big crossing because the traffic was so complex it couldn't work out what was going on. Thankfully you can bypass its attempt to brake, get out safely and then stop safly on the side of the road to finish swearing and start digging out where you can kill the damn thing (and yes, only until you restart the car), but after it has done this twice your car startup routine changes to doing this first after switching on contact before you even set off.

                    Just to add to this, I have as yet no idea how these things deal with signal degradation. What if a sensor breaks (although I'm getting to the point where they could have an "accident")? What if they get dirty? What will happen when these things age?

                    I'm OK with driver assistance systems, but as long as I am the driver, *I* should be in control of a vehicle. If not, I should also not have the resulting liability.

                2. John Robson Silver badge

                  Mine doesn't do that - and certainly doesn't "yank the wheel" out of anyone's hands... it's enough to hold the lane easily, though I suspect a reasonably sized pothole would be interpreted as too much steering input causing it to relinquish control.

                  I have the forward collision warning set to it's most conservative setting, so it does whine at me a few times a month (usually when the car ahead is turning off the road onto a road I can see to be clear).

                  But when it does decide to brake... it will run straight to ABS level braking with no other reaction time.

                  I've never put myself that late... but it is also designed to minimise damage, not to completely prevent it.

                  1. Helcat

                    I've a Skoda Kamiq: First one with Lane assist and my first experience with it 'assisting' did feel like it was trying to 'yank' the wheel out of my hands. I've gotten used to it now, so the 'yank' seems more like firm pressure that's not too bad to resist.

                    I had the same with the brake assist: First time it engaged was a shock - especially as there was no reason for it to do so. If anything, brake assist has proven more trouble than beneficial: I either already know and am adjusting for the 'hazard' or the darn system is reacting to shadows (nothing there!). Not once has it engaged when there was actual need for it to, and not once has it saved lives. It has, however, nearly >caused< an accident (unexpected breaking can do that - especially if the vehicle behind is a motorbike). The audible alert can also be a problem, but less so than the darn car deciding to break unexpetedly.

                    And now the gov wants all cars to have speed limiters... mine has speed alert : It shows the speed limit on the dashboard and speedometer and would be good if it were in anyway accurate. Unfortunately it rarely is accurate and has displayed speed limits of 20, 45 and even 90mph, insists country roads are 30's (posted 50 when not national speed limit), that a 30 was actually a 40 (speed signs showing 30) and in general is a right mess. Even google maps is more accurate!

                    The biggest risk, however, is as seen with this story: People getting used to the idea that the car will simply sort everything out so there's no need to pay attention. We shouldn't rely on tech to keep us safe: We should use it to >assist< keeping us safe because the tech has no idea as to what's actually going on. Plus not knowing what the actual speed limit is...

                    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


                      Your thing about speed limits doesn't surprise me. As of the last time I heard, the local councils and government don't have an accurate database of the correct speed limits on all their roads, so there's nothing to give to the car manufacturers for any kind of accurate speed control.

                      Google are more accurate. However they've achieved that by crowd-sourcing the data. Like lots of stuff on Google Maps it asks users if this speed limit is correct, and then once a certain number of people have clicked in a correction, they must update their database. Which is fine as far as it goes, but doesn't seem acceptable to use for a legally mandated safety system. Unless they also used the Google Street View cars to create their database?

                      Or maybe the government have updated all this, but the car manufacturers are fitting their cars with old data, and not updating. Like in the old days of in-car sat-nav, where it was out of date when the car was new, and only got worse as time went on.

                      1. ronspencer314

                        I ain't Spartacus,

                        At this point, many cars are pretty good at reading speed limit signs, and none of the cars I have used relied pm, or probably even bothered with, speed-limit databases. That said, speed limit signs can be deceiving, as some of them will have a bit "55mph" sign and small print saying that it applies only to trucks or vehicles hauling trailers, so cars can't take them too seriously until they can start reading the small print.

                        But, the cameras do work well for urban driving, and Teslas, at least since 2020, have been limiting such driving while using autopilot to 5mph or less over the detected speed limit.

                        1. David 132 Silver badge

                          …speed limit signs can be deceiving, as some of them will have a bit "55mph" sign and small print saying that it applies only to trucks…

                          Or the one that confuses my car & my wife’s regularly… school zone signs that say “20”, but with small print saying that it’s only during school hours or when the lights sre flashing.

                          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                            So if you do go slower- that won't kill anyone.

                            1. Anonymous Coward
                              Anonymous Coward

                              .. and enable the windscreen wipers.. :)

                              Joking aside, I think every car should have in its GPS junior schools as POI and slow down automatically in proximity. I liked the way they do this in Malaysia - some distance from and beyond the school the road area is hatched where you're required to drive slowly and are not allowed to park.

                              Where I live, most junior schools are between posts with a picture of a squid on top and those are always accompanied by a 30 km/h speed limit. Most of the time they elevate the crossings as well which stops drivers from approaching them too fast and damage their wheels.

                              I prefer this kind of signalling - it helps you if you're in an unfamiliar place to be aware that there is a high chance of kids on the road, and driving is all about risk management.

                        2. big_D Silver badge

                          My Nissan system usually shows the allowed speed limit for the stretch of road (E.g. 100km/h) and then a second sign next to it with the reduced limit, with a box underneath, meaning it is a reduced speed for special circumstances - it is still up to the driver to be aware of what those special circumstances and time restrictions are, as there are too many exception, such as Lärmschutz (volume protection for residents, reducing engine noise and tyre noise at night), roadworks, just for HGVs or trailers, only in heavy rain to avoid aquaplaning etc.

                      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

                        My HR-V recognises speed signs, and places the information into the display.

                      3. big_D Silver badge

                        The cars I've driven use a camera to recognize speed signs and are generally accurate, but nowhere near accurate enough to use for speed limiters.

                        I believe my Nissan system uses a mixture of the maps in the nav system and the camera. It will show me the "mapped" limit mostly, but if I drive along a road with roadworks, it does automatically show me the new limit (most of the time) - the car is 100% offline, so it can't get roadwork information from an online database. Other cars I've driven with similar systems have been inaccurate as well, but usually in different locations, so each manufacturer's system has different strengths and weaknesses.

                        But, as I said, the systems aren't accurate enough to risk your license to - you still need to pay attention to the actual posted limits - let alone let the car decide how fast it is allowed to drive!

                        On my old Ford, I was driving on the Autobahn and the GPS started to go crazy and the map showed me doing 180km/h (~112mph) through the middle of a housing estate and it was constantly beeping and showing warnings that I should observe the posted speed limits (I was, the section of the autobahn I was on was unlimited).

                    2. Noodle

                      "People getting used to the idea that the car will simply sort everything out so there's no need to pay attention."

                      This is exactly the problem with Teslas. It's (mostly) not a technology problem, it's the way they are marketed. We all know that no-one reads the manual any more and if you give enough people a feature called "autopilot" then some of them are going to interpret that literally, leading to accidents like this one.

                      1. veti Silver badge

                        Well, it mostly is a technology problem. Because the technology has been developed specifically so that it can be sold like this. If "full self driving" weren't part of the description, the Tesla would be a much simpler (and cheaper) type of car.

                    3. John Robson Silver badge

                      "It has, however, nearly >caused< an accident (unexpected breaking can do that - especially if the vehicle behind is a motorbike). "

                      No - the following vehicle has nearly caused an accident.

                      Although if your car breaks then that's a reasonable cause for an accident. Braking however is something that you should always be leaving space to allow the vehicle in front of you to brake.

                  2. Dave 15

                    its designed to make sure it damages the car enough to make a large profit on spare parts.

                    cynic? not me

                    going straight to abs means leaving it too late, ice or snow and crash. oops

                    once again inadequate sensors and far from adequate thinking on the software part

                    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                      Designed to damage? Hell yes! If the car hadn't absorbed as much of the kinetic energy as it could then who do you think is next in line to absorb it?

                      If I ever have a crash and get hurt, I want the car to be fucking RUINED!

                      1. big_D Silver badge

                        If the car is going to have an emergency braking system, I want it to be good enough and cut in early enough that it AVOIDS THE F***ING ACCIDENT IN THE FIRST PLACE!

                        1. John Robson Silver badge

                          I think the (erroneous) point was that any attempt to reduce damage is only worth it if it completely eliminates all damage.

                          aka. Auto braking that only saves lives and reduces damage isn't worth having if you still scratch the paint on your bumper.

                          1. big_D Silver badge

                            I agree, something is better than nothing, but if you are going to put in such a system, it should try to avoid the accident in the first place. If it always brakes too late to avoid a collision (there are times where it will be unavoidable - someone 'illegally' pulling out in front of you at too short a distance to stop, for instance), then the system should be rethought out, so that it actually tries to stop before the collision.

                            But that would mean less work for contract bodyshops...

                      2. TRT Silver badge

                        What was that book I read once?.. where the driver reassured the passenger that the car had the same safety features as any modern car, like the crumple zone located between the front and rear bumpers.

                    2. John Robson Silver badge

                      But at the same time if it brakes assuming ice all the time then it will never be enabled.

                      I can't recall where I read the research that a significant proportion (maybe even the majority) of rear end collisions could have been avoided had the driver pressed the brake pedal harder than they did (not faster, just harder) - hence various cars now having an emergency brake detection system based on the profile of coming off the go pedal and onto the stop pedal.

                      In any event doing *some* braking is far better, particularly for those outside the vehicle, than doing none.

                      1. Charles 9

                        I'd be interested in the research because the conventional wisdom is that slamming on the brakes risks the wheels locking and the car going into a less-controllable skid, especially as the vehicle gets heavier.

                        1. big_D Silver badge

                          Except, if the car has this sort of system, they will already have ABS.

                          Yes, I know, ABS doesn't reduce braking distance per se, it usually increases it, but the car is still controlable.

                          When I was regularly changing cars (pool and hire cars), one of the first things I used to do was to find a clear bit of road / a quiet road on an industrial estate etc. and practice heavy braking, until I got to know the car (and different surfaces) and could brake as hard as the car would allow, so the tyres were screaming, but hadn't actually locked.

                          I used to regularly test this on a backroad on the way home from work, which was usually dusty. One day, I was coming up to the end of the road and a woman in a Volvo pulled out in front of me, much too late for me to stop. I managed to "howl" the brakes, just hovering around the skid point, then, at the last second, come off the brakes, turn the wheel, dab the hand brake quickly, and back on the throttle and shoot up the side of her car into the junction she had just pulled out of. The look on her face was a picture.

                          It was just a reflex action, but, thanks to the regular tests of the optimum braking point, especially on this one road, I managed to pull it off perfectly. If I'd actually tried to do it, I'd probably have hit her 9 out of 10 times, but that one time, instead of panicking and locking up the brakes and ploughing into her, I somehow managed to actually pull off a near-perfect avoidance manoeuvrer - it was perfect, in that I didn't hit her or damage my own car avoiding her's, but a trained stuntman could probably have done it better still.

                        2. John Robson Silver badge

                          ABS mitigates this risk very well on the whole* - Yes, it's fractionally slower than a perfect driver, but it's still a massive step up for most people.

                          * I've had it completely fail on me once - coming off a motorway with fresh snow on the slip road. If I touched the brakes the wheels would lock and the ABS would kick in, meaning that the wheels just carried on rolling over the snow. I would have pulled the handbrake to build up a snow wedge under the wheels, but that was connected to the front wheels, so I'd have just lost control faster. As it was I could see the roundabout at the top of the slip road, and by accelerating slightly I fed into a gap in the traffic (through a red light)

                  3. big_D Silver badge

                    Possibly a bit of an extreme description on my part, but if you are used to cars going where you steer them and have the normal light grip on the wheel, as opposed to "white knuckling" the wheel, it is a shock, when it suddenly cuts in and tries to drive you into a concrete wall or down a grass bank.

                  4. TRT Silver badge

                    Toyota describe it, IIRC, as "applying a force profile to the steering system". In other words, it makes the steering feel as if the white lines run on tarmac that domes up to a crest about an inch higher than the rest of the lane, similar to the way many roads wear over time.

                3. Dave 15

                  I will stick with my dumb cars. I dont like these ideas of some computer boffin screwing up software and landing me in a ditch, I am capable of avoiding the ditch a good deal of the time (touch wood) and dont need some badly thought through design by a wet behind the ears 12 year old dumping me in a ditch because they didnt think of something or other.

                  My strong preference is for a Morris Minor or Vauxhall Vva HA neither of those feature ANY silicon chip and neither have any motors to twitch my steering wheel, they have hydrailic fluid from my brake pedal to the wheel cylinders and cables if the fluid leaks. Both have circuit diagrams that are readable when printed on A5, just the way I like my cars.

                  1. batfink

                    It's alright. The bugs are all in the backlog and will be fixed in forthcoming sprints.

                    What do you mean "fixed before release"? That's not how development works in the brave new world!

                  2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                    I'm amazed there are any Vauxhall Viva's left that haven't rusted to bits...

                    1. big_D Silver badge

                      When I was a kid, my neighbour had an old Viva that had rusted, he spent the whole summer and autumn working on the rear wing, rubbing it down, spreading filler over it, rubbing it down, rinse and repeat, until it was fairly smooth, then a spray can of Vauxhall white paint to cover over the filler...

                      A month or so after he was finished, it snowed and a delivery van got stuck on the hill outside our house. The driver found a bit of wood and stuck it under the rear tyres for traction and WHAM! the wood was spat out sideways, summersaulted through the air and landed on the newly repaired rear-wing of the neighbours Viva, knocking all the filler out!

                      1. TRT Silver badge

                        My fiancée from many years ago owned an old and much loved Viva once, passed down through her family, customised by her ingenious father, particularly with some additions for a traditional English picnic sat inside the car looking out at the rain, and lovingly repaired once after the sump broke by lifting the whole engine out with a scaffolding pole.

                        I had bought some speakers and a cassette player dirt cheap whilst working in Canada (how I got it through customs I'll never know - I was young and naive). The Viva is built like a battleship - I had to cut through the parcel shelf and it took me the best part of a day to do it! I did a similar job many years later on a late model Rover 114... I ended up having to reinforce the parcel shelf and the door trims in order that they could take the weight of a decent set of speakers.

                        Happy days. Was quite sad to see that car go, but we moved to London and it wasn't practical to have a car in that part of town. Broke up soon after too.

                        I have a sneaking suspicion that her husband at least might well be a reader of these pages, not that I've ever met him.

                    2. tiggity Silver badge


                      Quality rusty viva track


                  3. Chz

                    I have to disagree with "ANY silicon chip".

                    Electronic Fuel Injection is a godsend over carbs and mechanical fuel injection. And there's no way in hell a car could get anywhere near modern emissions requirements without it.

                    1. Ahab Returns

                      I quite like Bosch K-Jet having completely rebuilt a 2.8i version - its just a sort of carb in exploded form. You are right that EFi provides superior performance. I'm old school - I hate power steering (never needed it on my Landrover Series 2a) and even power brakes - my MG never had a brake booster, what am, some feeble wuss? ;-)

                4. kat_bg

                  As far lane assist goes, it can be usefull on highways but on normal, twisty roads, it can be pretty annoying trying to correct the trajectory of the car and require to fight the steering wheel to correct it. I have turned it off and it is turned on only on long highway trips. Tried Audi's lane assist and Mazda's (my current car)

                5. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Agreed - I turn off the lane assist every time I get in my car. I have 2 issues with it. The first is the car's idea of being central in any given lane is about a foot and a half over to the right which in the UK often puts the wing mirrors too close for my liking to the white line. This is great until a car coming the other way is doing the same thing which happens a lot given that some people seem to think they are playing Scalextric or Pac-Man with the cats eyes. The irony is it's those people who would possibly benefit from this feature.

                  But what really freaks me out is the apparently random adjustments the car makes to the steering which feel like the car is being taken by a strong sidewind or even losing traction if it happens on a bend. Bearing in mind my car would rather clip a vehicle coming the other way than let me drive I cannot see why anyone would trust their own life let alone that of anyone else to these "driver aids". It is unfortunate that the drivers of such vehicles seem to have unreasonable expectations of these features and believe in them way too much for their current given capabilities.

            2. Peter2 Silver badge

              I'm not familiar with the road in question. I am however personally familiar with several roads in the UK where you come off of a highway doing 70mph (our national speed limit) and are faced with traffic lights on the exit ramp before a roundabout that looks to be just shy of 200 metres judged by the distance scale in google maps, which I suspect is probably 200 yards, having been there since well before we went metric. I can think of many, many more that have about double that sort of distance.

              If the vehicle took an exit like this without decelerating under the mistaken impression that it's still on the highway (our satnav often doesn't notice when i'm driving until we are going around the roundabout) then at 70mph your covering 31.5 meters a second, or 34 yards per second. It's going to cover 200 yards in 5.88 seconds. The (British) highway code has a table in the back which recognises that a driver paying attention is going to react to a threat and hit the brakes in three quarters of a second before coming to a halt approximately one hundred yards (or 91 metres) after noticing the threat requiring you to stop. Paying 100% attention you would therefore have approximately two seconds to realise that a self driving car had been stupid and left the highway at a junction and apply the brakes to stop at the lights, assuming that the slip road was completely empty with no cars were parked at the junction to hit.

              Any human "supervising" a self driving car for any sort of time period is going to have mentally switched off to the point that it's likely to take the average person at least 5 seconds to realise that the self driving is about to become self crashing, come to the realisation that they need to assert control and go for the brakes. Then you need to move your feet from their rest position to go for the brakes which is likely to take at least three quarters of a second; which leaves you in a position where your foot has depressed the brake pedal around 13 milliseconds before impact, which sounds tragically descriptive of this incident.

              This is why self driving cars were, are and will always be a stupid idea. While the driver is of course legally responsible for driving their vehicle, the self driving AI ought to have it's licence revoked.

              Oh, that's right. Self driving cars can't drive well enough to pass a driving test. So why should they be allowed to be in control of a vehicle? The apologists for Tesla will of course point out that "auto pilot" and "full self driving" are just driver assistance tool like ABS or cruise control, which ignores that "autopilot" and "full self driving" are explicitly marketed as being fully self driving to people who can't understand the (serious) limitations of this technology. Tesla are certainly morally liable for the people their autopilot has killed, and while people are reasonably willing to accept Tesla drivers killing themselves they aren't anywhere near as likely to accept this killing other road users who are driving safely and legally.

              1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                An excellent analysis. May I take the liberty of emphasising your point that, unlike the normal case, the driver has to first recognise that the car has missed something before then deciding what to do about it? This additional latency can be fatal, as here.

                Any system of driver assistance therefore has to be much *better* than the human alternative before it can be just as safe.

            3. katrinab Silver badge

              It takes about 26 seconds to regain situational awareness when auto-pilot hands back control to a human, so that is basically what you would expect to happen.

              1. John Robson Silver badge

                26 seconds?

                What, from being asleep maybe.

                1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                  26 seconds?

                  I'd guess from context that this is in relation to aircraft.

                  Where of course to regain situational awareness is a lot more complex in terms of working out what the aircraft is doing in 3 dimensions, as well what was wrong with it to cause the autopilot to crap out on you,and posssibly also why all those alarms are sounding.

                  In a car, if you're not sure about what your pitch and roll rate is then it's too late to do anything...

                  1. katrinab Silver badge

                    Yes, but in a car, you not only need to understand what your own car is doing, you need to understand what other road-users around you are doing. You maybe need to do a bit of that in a plane, but not to anything like the same extent.

                    1. John Robson Silver badge

                      You need to know what's ahead of you pretty fast, but that's only a couple of seconds at worst.

                      Everything else helps, but isn't essential.

                      If you think it takes more than twenty seconds to gain awareness of what's ahead of you then I shudder to think how infrequently you check your mirrors.

                      In an emergency what's ahead of you is basically all that matters, to a lesser extent anything right next to you might be useful (if braking won't be sufficient then steering is a distant second best option)

                      1. katrinab Silver badge
                        Paris Hilton

                        Check my mirrors, that car is still there doing the same thing as before.

                        Doesn't take as long to process as if you are starting from zero knowledge.

                      2. Charles 9

                        No, you still have to check behind you in case the vehicle behind you is something you DO NOT want rear-ending you, like a big-rig.

                2. katrinab Silver badge

                  This study says "20 seconds or more"


                  1. John Robson Silver badge

                    No it says the ability to reproduce, in diagrammatic form, the position and relative speeds of all vehicles around you on a multilane road - from an absolute zero baseline - improves over the course of the first twenty seconds.

                    Whilst I would like to suggest that the zero baseline is not a realistic scenario I observe people driving who have said zero baseline as a constant state.

            4. OldSoCalCoder

              What wasn't mentioned and is critical here is the fact that the Tesla was exiting a freeway, the 91 in LA, and the Tesla didn't stop for the red light at the bottom of the offramp. After driving LA freeways for 50+ years I can tell you there's no way you have 20 seconds to go from freeway speed to dead stop on an offramp.

              Even knowing your offramp is coming up, even travelling in the slow lane, you're expected to keep up with the flow of traffic which usually averages at least 70 mph. You have at the best 5 seconds to merge off and start to slow down. I'm assuming the driver had been letting the Tesla accelerate and brake while traveling on the freeway. At what point is the driver supposed to assume the Tesla will no longer self-drive?

              1. Cederic Silver badge

                When they get into the driver's seat.

          3. Dave 15


            I expect my car to start slowing when I press the foot brake. If it doesnt it will take me time to register the problem and then pull on the emergency (hand) brake.

            Tesla are marketing this as a system that drives your car, they are NOT marketing it as a system that could help you avoid some mistakes in day to day driving.

        2. Cav Bronze badge

          "but that doesn't change the fact this 'poor sod' killed two people." which is irrelevant and why, if a burglar breaks into your home and is killed by something in your home that is properly maintained and used as per manufacturers instructions\common understanding of a reasonable person, the fault lies with the burglar and not you. The fact that the outcome was a death is not relevant to legal fault. Negligence and recklessness are and that is why the driver IS culpable in this case, not because someone died, but because he was negligent, resulting in death.

          Similarly, the consequence of death for someone while you use equipment in a manner that the manufacturer implies is safe, also rest with the manufacturer.

          Saying that these vehicles have an autopilot is not correct as most reasonable people understand the term from aviation - the aviation advice\training is to obviously keep hands on controls when landing or taking off, even when using auto land, or when generally flying below 2,500 ft. At higher altitudes, pilots do not keep their hands on the controls and the plane is truly being flown by the autopilot.

          A more reasonable term for cars would be "driving assistant".

      2. Joe W Silver badge

        Stupidity is no excuse under the law. Well, in some cases it is mitigating, but has other repercussions resulting. In this case it would result the driver to be considered mentally unable to drive a car.

      3. Lotaresco

        "Stupidity is not a sin and not prohibited in law. "

        Stupidity is frequently prosecuted in law. To that extent it is prohibited in law. It is referred to as "negligence", a failure to perform the actions that a reasonable person would have taken to avoid serious or fatal consequences. This can range from civil consequences - causing injury or property damage by negligence is a tort - to criminal consequences, causing death or serious injury by negligence is manslaughter or negligent homicide depending on the jurisdiction and the circumstances. The threshold for deciding if negligence applies is what most people would consider to be a definition of stupidity.

        "A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances."

        Also worth noting that stupidity is often a capital offence when it involves the laws of nature. For example, getting into a cage with a hungry tiger.

        1. Dave 15

          I wonder if we could claim that anyone paying the money for 'fsd' is ignoring prudent behaviour and is therefore stupid enough to be removed from the highways as a safety measure for others

      4. Dave 15

        Problem is

        Musk is rich, Tesla is rich, its no fun fighting rich people who have smart and expensive lawyers as you rarely win. Much easier to beat up the small guy.

        Its why the rich and corporations pay less tax and get less attention from the taxman than us plebs

      5. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

        "I would fine Tesla and not that poor sod. Stupidity is not a sin and not prohibited in law. But just this once."

        Don't know about anywhere else, but here in the UK, it's always the driver that is responsible, that's written into law. For instance, if you drive someone else's car and that car has a fault, say, a broken light, you are liable. If they knowingly allowed you to drive a faulty vehicle, they could be jointly liable with you.

        1. Helcat

          That's why I'm not a fan of 'safety' tech that takes away the driver's control. When that tech overrides the driver, you have a problem as to who is actually responsible, especially if the override is due to a bug that appeared in an update that automatically downloaded to the car.

          Okay, currently the override is to activate the breaks, but unexpected breaking is considered 'driving without due care and attention'. And as the front sensor that activates those breaks could be reacting to a leaf, raid, or the car in the left turn lane starting to turn left... Not reliable tech.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            That's the trouble with software for cars... there's often a back door or two.

            1. David 132 Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Get out!

      6. BOFH in Training

        Marketing? What marketing?

        What marketing?

        As I understand Tesla doesn't really have a marketing team. Have you ever seen any ad by Tesla anywhere?

        It's just Elon's words which people sometimes follow blindly. I know he has hyped autopilot functions in Tesla but I understand even he said that you have to monitor the vehicle while driving.

      7. rcxb1

        > it's all about Tesla and how they are marketing the autopilot. In fact the first error is in the "auto".

        Would you prefer they call it "horseless-carriage-pilot" perhaps?

        I doubt anyone believes the namesake autopilot systems aboard jumbo jets are designed to stop at red lights, either.

    2. Timbo

      Surely this is a semantics issue?

      What does "auto" mean in the context of auto it short for "automobile" or is it short for "automatic".

      One could assume the former, but it could mean the latter?

      1. Mark 85

        What does "auto" mean in the context of auto it short for "automobile" or is it short for "automatic".

        Either way is mis-leading. To most folks, "auto pilot" is airplanes use and make things easier on the human pilots.. i.e.: the plane flies itself is what the a/c industry says. Maybe not take off and landings so much yet but even that is out there. So, tell people their car has autopilot and guess what? They'll equate it an aircraft system.

        Tesla is playing word games with people's lives at stake.

        As a side note... how many people have been picked up by the cops for sleeping while their Tesla is running down the road?

        1. Tommy G1

          Tesla is playing word games with people's lives at stake.

          This sums it up in one sentence.

          The driver is absolutely responsible and this guy should be jailed if convicted but this is going to keep happening while these cars are marketed as "self-driving but you need to keep an eye on things *wink*"

          1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

            Too good

            If it works 98% of the time, the driver would not be ready for it failing this time. So it has to be 100% or not at all.

          2. Dave 15

            Teslas should be removed from the road and this abortion of a piece of marketing crap removed from them all. Tesla should never ever ever be allowed to market 'FSD' or 'auto pilot' or any other version of this until they can prove without doubt that their software actually can drive a car. They wont be able to and so we hit the end of the stupidity immediately.

            If I tell you that the box I sell you will tell you about police speed cameras you dont expect to get a speeding ticket because it didnt. or let me ask, do you... you seem to expect a driver sold a full self driving software package at great expense to himself to not expect it to work and he should be charged for expecting the product to work as advertised. If you really think it is ok I have a cardboard box here I will paint with a log and you can give me 100 bucks and stick it to your dashboard where I promise (wink wink) that it will warn you of any police speed traps.

        2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          > "To most folks, "auto pilot" is airplanes use"

          Do you fly? An aircraft's autopilot literally just maintains altitude, heading & speed. There are other systems in place to avoid collisions and they feed into the autopilot but aren't themselves part of it.

          In the early days of commercial aviation, there were even mid-air crashes because the pilots had set the autopilots on routes that happened to intersect.

          Going by your logic, autopilot is actually a good name for the technology. People's perceptions of what constitutes 'autopilot' however are wildly inaccurate.

          1. jake Silver badge

            "Do you fly?"

            Yes, I do. But it makes no difference. To most people, the vast majority I'd wager, if you turn on an aircraft's autopilot, the airplane takes over all the duties associated with flying. This erroneous concept has been transferred to Tesla's "autopilot" in the minds of the Great Unwashed through clever marketing.

            Yes, it says in the very finest of print in Tesla's documentation that the driver is to remain vigilant, and that the car does not drive itself ... but Tesla knows full well that nobody reads the fine print. And apparently Tesla's marketing department likes it that way, seeing as they have not changed the obvious error(s) in the way they present their version of "autopilot".

            YES, the dude is liable for being an idiot and killing two people. But Tesla is even more guilty of knowingly providing the attractive nuisance in the first place. Both should face a Judge, but for two different reasons.

          2. Terry 6 Silver badge

            I've seen Airplane.

            I know what it does.


            Relevant bit 5 minutes or so in.

            1. Lotaresco

              "I've seen Airplane."

              Point of order, that's Otto Pilot.

              1. adam 40 Silver badge

                To get this back to computing, what's your Interrupt Vector, Victor?

                1. This post has been deleted by its author

          3. ICL1900-G3

            Yes, I fly, and you're wrong. A modern autopilot will follow a route and take you down the glideslope. A Cat 3 will land the plane.

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Yes, but will it also contact ATC and get clearance? Change to tower frequency? Perform engineering duties like the pre-landing check-list? Secures the approach and glide slope for exclusive use? Ensures that the runway is ready to accept a landing?

              I mean I'm interested to know how sophisticated this system actually is... how does the expectation meet reality? Because I suspect that fully qualified pilots and those in the business know exactly what the limits, constraints and requirements of "Cat 3 auto piloting" actually are and would say that it's somewhat of a glib oversimplification to say that it will take off, fly a route and land the plane for you.

              Much in the same way that "get rid of the overpaid, redundant button pushers. Driverless trains now!" is the cry from a large sector of society about any news involving Tube strikes - there's a lack of appreciation about the precise details of what needs doing, who does it, how much human involvement there really is and where it takes place.

          4. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

            "An aircraft's autopilot literally just maintains altitude, heading & speed."

            Modern, fly by wire aircraft such as commercial passenger and freight ones can land on automated systems. However, like the Tesla software the pilot is supposed to be paying full attention and should be ready to take control at any time. The problem is that Tesla are marketing their cruise control (I'm not even going to dignify it with the word "super") to a public that largely understands auto pilot to mean much more than a commercial pilot would.

        3. ICL1900-G3

          Additionally, aviation autopilots deal with a far more predictable environment than a road system.

      2. Schultz

        <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

        and the word-forming element auto- is used to express "self, one's own, by oneself, of oneself". So the direct meaning of autopilot is a system that pilots itself. Merriam Webster defines autopilot as

        : a device for automatically steering ships, aircraft, and spacecraft; also : the automatic control provided by such a device"

        : a state or condition in which activity or behavior is regulated automatically in a predetermined or instinctive manner

        So the established meaning of autopilot is quite clear. The Tesla autopilot is not an autopilot in the traditional meaning of the word and its name is misleading. Whether this is a sufficient excuse to unsafely drive a car is a completely different question and will now be properly addressed by the US judical system.

        1. JetSetJim

          Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

          automatic (adj.)

          "self-acting, moving or acting on its own," 1812 (automatical is from 1580s; automatous from 1640s), from Greek automatos of persons "acting of one's own will;" of things "self-moving, self-acting," used of the gates of Olympus and the tripods of Hephaestus (also "without apparent cause, by accident"), from autos "self" (see auto-) + matos "thinking, animated," *men- (1) "to think."

          Automatic = self-thinking

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

            Yet no-one would say that automata are in any way thinking machines.

            1. Dave 15

              Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

              Not thinking in the conventional sense for sure, but they can and do their jobs. Teslas fsd/autopilot/expensive con doesnt, its a crock of shite.

              I can sell you an autopilot attachment for your car, you strap it to your steering wheel and it will drive the car for you, merely 2000 dollars... (not a bad price for an empty plastic box)

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

                I can sell you an autopilot attachment for your car, you strap it to your steering wheel and it will drive the car for you, merely 2000 dollars... (not a bad price for an empty plastic box)

                I wouldn’t pay that much for an Audi driver.

            2. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

              People did (then).

              1. Stoneshop

                People did (then).

                "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?"

        2. potatohead

          Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

          I agree with your interpretation of what the word means, and that autopilot in this case means something capable of automatically piloting, that is, controlling the car to reach a given destination.

          However, I disagree with you that this implies it is safe.

          I don't think an aircraft autopilot will avoid collisions with other planes in the air, or if the plane is misconfigured, the ground. If the plane sensors are faulty, it'll make the wrong decisions. I don't think commercial aircraft can fly on autopilot without a pilot as backup, and I think there are various situations where the autopilot will automatically disengage putting the human pilot back in control.

          This seems to be very similar to the Tesla autopilot, although the scenarios where the plane one does the right thing far outweigh the situations where the Tesla one works. I'd not trust it, and think it's a daft idea, but i'm rather risk averse, and other people may feel differently.

          BTW, another interpretation would be to say that it's a pilot for an auto, which is a fairly common abbreviation for a car, being an automobile. It's unlikely that this is the intention though.

          1. Timbo

            Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

            "BTW, another interpretation would be to say that it's a pilot for an auto, which is a fairly common abbreviation for a car, being an automobile. It's unlikely that this is the intention though."

            That's exactly what I conjectured previously (see above)...and I got 18 down votes as a result !!

            Next time I go to the USA, I'll check out some "auto wreckers" - which might have nothing to do with cars and are simply machines that will wreck anything you put in them.

            Or I might buy a new truck that has an "auto" gearbox, instead of a stick shift"?

            Or I could get a paper shredding machine that has an "auto feeder" - but I doubt I could put a car through it !

            1. MOH

              Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

              So grand theft auto would mean stealing ... yourself?

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

                I suppose "Aggravated Taking of a vehicle Without Consent" or even "TWOC" doesn't have quite the same ring to it for the name of a UK market driving game. I'm not sure that if it had been released under such a name in the US it would have done so well.

            2. TRT Silver badge

              Re: <auto> from Greek autos, reflexive pronoun, "self, same" ...

              Auto Erotic Asphyxiation is, I suppose, accidentally leaving the engine running whilst parked up in the garage to have quick wank?

      3. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Even though not an American ( and my psychology degree decades in the past) I'd assert pretty strongly that no one would think that Tesla used the word part "auto" as being short for automobile. Indeed, I'd say that it was a close to inconceivable as you can get. (Not 100% so, obviously, since previous poster has suggested it).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There are no red lights on the freeway?

      The red light was unexpected? I'm thinking the Tesla wasn't supposed to have exited the freeway to begin with? Still can't figure it out from the linked news story.

      1. Test Man

        Re: There are no red lights on the freeway?

        "The red light was unexpected? I'm thinking the Tesla wasn't supposed to have exited the freeway to begin with? "

        If that was the case, in most countries the exit ramp is a long road and therefore the driver had ample time to have seen it and taken control.

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Re: There are no red lights on the freeway?

        Err, is this not one of the big issues....

        All this autonomous driving stuff and the grossly misnamed "Tesla Auto Pilot" is utterly incapable of dealing reliably and safely with the unexpected.

        The really big and scary issues with Tesla are:

        The marketing is just total bull

        Many of the people who buy then appear to be idiots

        So far Tesla have had almost no comeback on any of the issues around this. What there has been is nothing more than a minor slap on the wrist.

        There is also still no way of reliably apportioning blame to the chimps that design, test and market these systems.

        1. adam 40 Silver badge

          Many of the people who buy them appear to be idiots

          Well they certainly have more money than sense, so Q.E.D.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: There are no red lights on the freeway?

        "The red light was unexpected? I'm thinking the Tesla wasn't supposed to have exited the freeway to begin with? Still can't figure it out from the linked news story."

        It's even more confusing if you know some of the issues that Tesla has had with their driving system. For a while, cars in "Autopilot" would take freeway exits whether they needed to or not. Frightened of going so fast? I can't recall if this was one of those incidents where the "driver" wasn't thinking the car would exit as his destination was still much further along.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      It would make Musk even more of a liar

      When he keeps talking about how "full self driving" is coming soon (heck supposedly Tesla owners were going to be able to make $100K a year with their car acting like an autonomous taxi while they slept by 2020) if the car can't even see a red light!

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

        Another article on El Reg says that Tesla are offering full self-driving right now for $12,500.

        I didn't anyone was near that yet, so I looked it up and found that all "Full Self Driving" means is that on top of Autopilot you get

        Traffic and Stop Sign Control (Beta): Identifies stop signs and traffic lights and slows your car to a stop on approach, with your active supervision.

        So as far as I can see, what you get for your $12,500 is the promise that you will get actual full self driving if they ever get round to inventing it. My AI colleagues don't think they do, and even if a version appears which can cope with a few limited cases, it will probably be well after current owners have bought new cars.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

          This is what Tesla say:

          Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment. While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous.

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

            I have to admit that my intuitive understanding of "Full Self-Driving Capability" would mean that I don't have to be "a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment". So I find this confusing terminology. I guess that the marketing division of Tesla just thinks that "Autopilot" and "Full Self Driving Capability" are better buzzwords than the alternatives and more likely to persuade people to buy vehicles than some long-winded, but technically accurate description located in 'the small print'.

            1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

              Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

              I'm quite impressed that Tesla have managed to come up with a feature even more misleadingly named than "Autopilot". I wonder what's next?

              The Tesla Flying Car (can drive to airports)

              Tesla Invisibility (cannot be seen by anyone blind or looking in a different direction)

              Tesla Perpetual Motion (neverending torrent of shit)

              1. Stoneshop

                The Tesla Flying Car

                can get airborne under favorable conditions

                (JATOs and launch ramp not included, available in the Plus package)

            2. Stork Silver badge

              Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

              If I had not heard of Teslas marketing before I would think Full Self Driving would take me home from the pub. Version 2 would put me to bed and tuck me in

          2. Dave 15

            Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

            Have you ever read every page of your drivers handbook?

            Hands up anyone who has.

            1. batfink

              Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

              Er, me?

            2. TRT Silver badge

              Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

              Heck, I even read them cover to cover for the vehicles I'm just THINKING of buying. It also helps understand exactly what all the various purchase options are and what they do.

            3. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

              "Have you ever read every page of your drivers handbook?"

              Yes. When I got the car, I went through it. I glossed over chapters on how to do the things that should be obvious, but still skimmed to make sure there wasn't some "improvement" that was going to be a problem. There's always time when I'm waiting on something where I'll dig out the manual from the glove box and remind myself when I need to replace some filter or have fluids changed. A couple of times a year I have to relearn how to set the clock on the radio and look up the service codes.

              All of this said, I'm a weirdo when it comes to manuals. I do read them. When I get an EV later this year (I hope), I'll walk my way through the manual. If the previous owner lost it, I'll buy one. After decades of driving, everything should be obvious, but some of the new Easter eggs are cryptic.

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

          "Traffic and Stop Sign Control (Beta):"

          I read that as "something where a bug will kill me (beta)". I'm clearly not in the target market segment. In fact, this is serious Darwin Award territory.

          1. Stoneshop

            Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

            I read that as "something where a bug will kill me (beta)".

            Or, as per the article, kill someone else.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

              No need to argue, it can do both at once!

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

                It's a car with enormous potential... around 400V, I believe.

        3. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: It would make Musk even more of a liar

          "So as far as I can see, what you get for your $12,500 is the promise that you will get actual full self driving if they ever get round to inventing it. "

          As a hardware person, I still think that when they finally sort out the software they are going to find that the hardware isn't up to scratch and needs to be updated, if possible. Self-driving is like fusion, in theory it's possible, but don't invest your money until it's real. It may remain 10 years away for decades.

    5. Dave 15

      Totally to do with it


      My car isnt advertised as able to stop when you put your foot on the brakes, it does. Tesla have repeatedly claimed their autopilot is able to drive you around, plenty of videos and so on claiming it can. I expect that to mean it is able to stop at traffic lights REGARDLESS of the small print saying you need to expect this crock of shit you paid a shed load for not to work.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Totally to do with it

        So is that why they put "Not Actual Game Footage" in all the adverts on TV now?

  2. Boo Radley

    Who's Driving The Car?

    The Tesla's driver is supposed to be in control ultimately. If my car hits another car while I'm using cruise control, you can bet I'll be charged.

    1. _LC_

      Re: Who's Driving The Car?

      While that looks like a fair assessment, it is not how humans (and other animals) work.

      Suppose, you had the job of pressing a red button, once a red light in the upper right corner of the screen comes on. Suppose that nothing ever happens. You will then likely fail to press the button in time when the light comes on, as time has taught you not to pay attention.

      Note that this happens at an UNCONSCIOUS level. You can exercise a strong discipline to keep yourself “awake”, but ultimately you are rolling the boulder uphill here. Sooner or later, this is bound to fail.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: Who's Driving The Car?

        Your argument is valid and is why Tesla need a darn good spanking.

        It also explains how this unfortunate death came about.

        It doesn't remove the legal obligation of the driver to drive safely, something they clearly did not do.

    2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: Who's Driving The Car?

      Yes, entirely correct: the driver is liable for what happens in the car he was driving. And he was driving it: turning on the cruise-control system was a decision he, not Tesla, made, and the outcome is thus his fault.

      Of course, he might try to sue Tesla for landing him in this mess (or the victims’ relatives may also end up bringing a civil case against Tesla for supplying an unsafe vehicle to the driver), but ordinary-person-sues-rich-company cases tend to only go one way…

      Tesla has been playing fast and loose about this product feature ever since it launched, and the company hasn’t done anything to counter the exaggerated claims made about the product capability because those claims made Tesla look better than it was. That inaction may end up costing Tesla a lot when (not if) it faces a class-action case around these autonomy features, but calling its latest iteration of a driver-intervention-required system “Full Self Driving” shows that no lessons have been learned at all.

      1. Dave 15

        Re: Who's Driving The Car?

        Not true, tesla didnt sell him a cruise control button they sold him full self driving, they have crowed about it and how it will save lives and drive the car for you so it is reasonable to argue that you were NOT driving the car, the expensive self driving software was driving the car, thats what it was advertised as doing

    3. Dave 15

      Re: Who's Driving The Car?

      with standard cruise control yes, cruise control just holds the speed and that is well known and has been around for several decades. Supposedly adaptive cruise control that they now have on lorries and maybe some cars is supposed to be able to latch onto and follow a vehicle in front.

      1. _LC_

        Re: Who's Driving The Car?

        “with standard cruise control yes, cruise control just holds the speed”

        ... and there are thousands of stories to be told about what can (and did) go wrong there, already.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Who's Driving The Car?

          "... and there are thousands of stories to be told about what can (and did) go wrong there, already."

          I use mine very frequently and it's never been a problem. I don't wind up with a cramped leg after keeping the accelerator pedal in one position for an hour on the motorway. It also saves me money by keeping me from speeding up and slowing down all of the time and wasting petrol. I expect that it's also saved me from a few speeding tickets too. I still have to keep a good look out and point the car in the correct direction which keeps me focused on driving. If there were something that required me to take action based on speed, it would likely be hitting the brakes which disengages CC. I'm not going to be expecting the car to do it for me up until the point when it's too late for me to make any difference should I need to take over.

          1. Cederic Silver badge

            Re: Who's Driving The Car?

            Ah, try driving in the UK. Accelerator in one position for an hour? Not a hope. Constant revisions to your speed, and/or hovering your foot over the brake pedal in case the car in front doesn't (or does, if it's in the next lane) move over.

            I have an adjustable speed limiter with trivial override in mine, which lets me set the speed to the speed limit, as you would cruise control, but I can lift my foot to slow down and maintain a sensible distance from the vehicle in front. Much more controllable, but also means I'm directly interacting with the car which means I don't get bored and switch off. If the car was on cruise control for an hour it'd crash, because I'd have fallen asleep.

  3. ecofeco Silver badge

    About time

    No matter what, almost all state laws hold the driver responsible for any fault of vehicle control that is not force majeure. I've pissed off a few passengers who think I'm their limo driver.

    3 years to figure this out is crazy.

  4. ShadowSystems

    Slap Tesla with an injunction.

    Make it illegal to advertise or describe the car as having an "autopilot" or as "full self driving" as these are obviously false.

    An autopilot is supposed to be capable of automaticly steering around obstacles, adjusting speed to suit conditions, and to land an aircraft, dock a boat, or park the car to which it is attached.

    "Full self driving" is blatantly describing the car as being a "set & forget" hands-off capability that catagorically does not exist.

    Until I, a totally blind individual *not allowed* to drive a vehicle because of that inability to take control in an emergency, can climb into a truely *Fully Self Driving* vehicle, then you can not & should not be allowed to advertise it as such.

    The guy that didn't bother to pay attention, didn't bother to take control, & just blithely allowed the car to cause an accident that resulted in multiple deaths absolutely should be prosecuted for those deaths.

    And then once he's been beaten with the book, it should be thrown at Tesla for the false advertising that incited the driver to abdicate their driving duties to a system not actually capable of handling them.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Autopilot

        The point is legal protection for Tesla. That oft demanded requirement of keeping your hands on the wheel is their "get out of jail" card for cases like this.

        "But we warned them..."

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Autopilot

          The facts do not bear this out. It is not up to being " an autopilot with a warning". And tesla isn't just covering themselves by issuing a warning. It is not self-driving. See above comments.

          (Upvotes for the previous post are surprising. They so contradict the agreement with earlier posts).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Autopilot

            I never said it is an "autopilot with a warning." Read again. I'm talking about LEGAL defenses and excuses, not technical.

            All one needs is "plausible deniability" in cases involving death to escape justice.

            1. Stoneshop

              Re: Autopilot

              It's just human nature.

              I *warned* you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you *knew*, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little *bunny*, isn't it?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Autopilot

                Oh, go change your armour! :)

    2. Chris G

      Re: Slap Tesla with an injunction.


      You are absolutely right.

      There are two levels of culpability here; one is the way driver assist is marketed, leading morons to think their modern shiny car is sentient and the other is the morons themselves who are stupid enough to go with the marketing hype and not think for themselves.

      Both driver snd maker ought to be tried in court.

    3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Slap Tesla with an injunction.

      Make it illegal to advertise or describe the car as having an "autopilot" or as "full self driving" as these are obviously false.

      But Tesla doesn't advertise.

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: Slap Tesla with an injunction.

        But Tesla doesn't advertise.

        Well, maybe not as such. But how is Musk waffling about this or that Tesla feature any different?

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: Slap Tesla with an injunction.

          This. Even if Musk himself is the only person Tesla is paying to spend his days on Twitter and Instagram (and I don't know if that's the case), how is that not advertising?

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Slap Tesla with an injunction.

          And at one point they took up a prime location inside Brent Cross shopping centre. A big shop space.Right in the centre of the centre. What was that if not a big expensive advert. You couldn't drive the bloody things.

  5. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Full manual: Be continuously alert and control your car

    Every active driving assistant: Be continuously alert for the moment when your car performs a suicide maneuver

    Sometimes full manual is more relaxing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My current car has AEB, which has cut in on several occasions where it is not warranted.

      Usually it is when I can see a car in the distance is turning and my 30+ years of driving experience tells me they will be out of the way by the time I get there, although I am covering the the brake in case something unexpected happens.

      AEB just see the car in the road, beeps at me and slams the brake on.

      The worst case was actually dangerous. I was moving across a 3 lane road. as I passed behind a car in the middle lane the car unexpectedly braked, meaning when I got into the inside lane I was going about 20kmh slower than anticipated. Had to drop a couple of gears and accelerate sharply to get out of the way of cars behind me.

      I am sure it has use cases for inattentive drivers (or those staring at their mobile phones), but I have found it more of a hindrance than a help.

      1. Filippo Silver badge

        My current car's AEB will beep quite eagerly, but it will only activate the brakes very conservatively. It will never prevent a crash this way, although it could mitigate one rather effectively. On the other hand, though, it also will never cause someone to rear-end me for no good reason. I'm quite happy with the arrangement.

      2. T. F. M. Reader

        Hi-tech product management for cars

        AC - upvoted, since my own experience with "smart driver assist" gadgetry matches yours.

        It seems to me that the typical "technology startup" attitude of doing 80% of what is needed in 80% of most common cases is enough for a good enough product is woefully inadequate for making cars.

        In "normal" situations any alerts or automatic actions are either not needed or not helpful. In abnormal - typically dangerous - situations a decent driver will be not just alert but tense, and any additional beep triggers (for me, at least) "Oh, shit, what else is wrong now?!?!", while struggling with a car that wants to do something else leads to a feeling of loss of control. I have yet to see an automatic driver assist or alert system not doing the worst thing possible in a hairy situation - but that's never in the 80% most common cases Product Management considered.

        I could offer lots of examples from personal experiences. Just one: I had to drive a rented car with active lane assist (impossible to switch off) in Italy last autumn. I spent a couple of days driving on narrow mountain roads with clear lane markings. The car's sensors thought I was too close to the markings most of the time (I was - the roads were narrow) and "pushed back". I felt totally out of control with a wall on one side and an abyss on the other - not pleasant. On autostrade the system was all but non-existent - the lanes were wide enough and I wasn't asleep.

        I remember MobilEye marketing their gadgetry as something that will keep you alert when you are tired behind the wheel (in the past, to be fair). If you are tired you are not supposed to be behind the wheel in the first place - are you saying it is OK now? This, IMHO, relates directly to the "autopilot+moron" use case.

        Dear software product managers, don't even think of the "good path" until you've figured out all the cases where your shit may cause real harm. That's a lot more important in a car than in a smarphone app.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Hi-tech product management for cars

          I think the driver assist stuff just doesn't suit some people. I use it, in particular circumstances it's great.

          If it does act weird, there is a button on the steering wheel to switch it on and off. The AEB is not very intrusive, it's for emergencies and I've rarely seen it happen. The active cruise also operates the brakes and that can start to slow you down when you don't want it to. Like when there is a bend in the road and the white lines are faded, and there is a truck further ahead round the bend in lane 1, therefore directly in front of me in lane 2. But it's predictable and a quick thumb on the button temporarily suspends it.

          MobilEye and similar stuff isn't supposed to keep you alert, it's supposed to recognise when you are looking a bit tired and warn you to stop and take a break. I think some of this explanation illustrates how perception of products and susceptibility to marketing differs between people. I wouldn't dream of interpreting Tesla Auto-Pilot as something that allows hands off driving. To me this is so obvious that it couldn't possibly be misconceived. I have difficulty believing people can actually make this mistake.

      3. TRT Silver badge

        Well if you were treating lane crossing as lane three to lane one in a single manoeuvre then you would probably have been better off treating it as two distinct manoeuvres - three to two, two to one. Thus you would have had to have move into a suitable and safe space in the middle lane before moving across to a suitable and safe space in lane one and the AEB wouldn't have cut in because it wouldn't have needed to.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          All fine and dandy, but I had entered the road from a junction on the right and had to get into the left lane sharpish to take the next junction I needed. Shit design road, but it is what I had to deal with. Check it out, this is where Nightcliff road merges with Bagot Road from the right on a corner. After merging, you have a couple of hundred metres to get left before the lights to turn into the shopping centre. Not much time to be too picky about your gap on a road with a 70kmh limit.


          I was travelling at the speed limit and was several car lengths behind the car in the middle lane. They were going a few kmh slower. There was a big gap on the inside lane and it wouldn't have been an issue until the idiot AEB system decided I was going to crash and braked.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Oh I see! Thanks for the link. I missed it was Australia. I know someone near Coconut Grove... I'll mention it to them. I've never been over there, let alone driven there. I had superimposed my experience of a UK motorway... 3 lanes and 70MPH usually. The AEB is that twitchy is it?

            That is a very shit road design... that long stretch of parallel road... quite disturbing to have vehicles on your right that aren't part of your traffic flow - we do have some appalling examples of similar, usually where there's a roundabout bypass lane on a fast road, but there's also a stretch of the M1 near Luton which has odd parallel running like this.

            In the UK that style of road with perpendicular side roads and some housing nearby would be 40mph tops, which is a smidgeon under 70kph, I guess. If the road is busy that would mean you have a job getting over to the left, but even so I would drive that as two leftward single lane changes, not one double lane change unless it was practically an empty road. There's too many numpty people who undertake to risk doing otherwise.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Not that far from where this insanely lucky incident happened a few months ago. Next set of traffic lights at the McMillans Road junction.


              1. TRT Silver badge

                I bet that left more than a couple of skid marks.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      I thought that. It's enough having to deal with all the maniacs out there without having to watch your own bloody car for suicidal tendencies.

  6. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Assisted cruise control

    I'm really not a fan of these semi-autonomous systems.

    If you have the emergency braking systems or these (radar) assisted cruise controls, the situations where it kicks in an emergency stop are ones where the driver would be slamming on the brakes themselves anyway (the system probably has quicker reaction time). They're more like driver aids, they don't do enough of the driving to make the driver space out or think the car is doing the driving for them.

    Problem with the Tesla system is it "usually" takes care of all the driving (lane-holding, deciding where to exit and turn and executing those turns, lane changes, plus the usual modern cruise control/emergency braking type stuff that is more typical on other vehicles.) So the driver really can just space off and do whatever (until something goes wrong and they crash or have to yank the wheel back from it as it's goes HAL on them...). I mean, they're formally told not to, but really.

    (edit: I do find it particularly troubling with the Teslas, these crashes where it crashes into a stationary vehicle; I would have expected (even if it starts braking too late to avoid a crash entirely) that the radar stuff on it would kick in and brake eventually (there's other makes with radar "emergency braking' systems that are meant to do just that and apparently successful at it.))

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: Assisted cruise control

      Tesla has actually removed radars from some of its cars, leaving only cameras. Reuters

      And before people start saying "it's because they were not needed", the radar was removed only from cheaper models... Meaning it's simply a safety feature that was removed for cost reasons.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Assisted cruise control

        Like Boeing did?

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Assisted cruise control

          They charged extra for the little warning light that told them what the f*** was going on with the control surfaces when they kept resetting themselves to what the software thought they should be set at based on input from a single sensor, which they did in order to save money.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Assisted cruise control

      "I'm really not a fan of these semi-autonomous systems."

      Me neither. Being a car guy, and a computer guy, and a guy who knows how sensors, servos, actuators and the like work and can be combined, I know how much can go wrong. Frankly,the concept of self-driving vehicles sharing the road with actual human drivers scares the shit out of me. Far, far too much to go wrong.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Assisted cruise control

      the situations where it kicks in an emergency stop are ones where the driver would be slamming on the brakes themselves anyway

      I had a pedestrian step into the road in front of me, I was prepared and covering the brake, yet the car was already braking before I had time to react. In the event the pedestrian hopped back and the car stopped 3 metres short. Impressive.

      And on top of that, it can emergency brake if needed and the driver is not paying attention - which happens because the drivers are human and humans all vary in their ability to focus and their judgement of risk. Imagine that pedestrian steps out in front of a driver who is distracted looking in their mirrors etc.

    4. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

      Re: Assisted cruise control

      Recently used a hire car which had some sort of lane monitoring system. Scared the hell out of me when it kicked in by "wobbling" the steering wheel with the kind of rumble feature I'd expect on a games console controller. It also briefly makes the power assisted steering harder to turn while it wobbles. The worst part was that I was dead centre in the lane - I can only assume it's designed for much wider lane markings than we tend to have on UK motorways. Relieved to get back to my sensible, 26 year old car that only has ABS.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Assisted cruise control

        I was annoyed by a hire Skoda I took last year. The cruise control was actually just a speed limiter. Utterly pointless. I was used to the Prius one that was actually very good and let you rest your leg on a long drive - speed control at your finger tips.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Assisted cruise control

          Speed limiters are not pointless. They are there to ensure you don’t go over the set speed and to remove the need to be watching your speedometer when you should be watching the road in front of you. They are great for keeping 30 or 20. The Skoda probably has cruise, you just didn’t switch mode to use it. Becoming pretty standard nowadays.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Assisted cruise control

            Yeah, it didn't have cruise. That was an optional extra. I read the manual cover to cover that night when I got to my hotel.

    5. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

      Re: Assisted cruise control

      A friend tested some years ago a German car with a radar equipped cruise control, which automatically reduces speed when the cars in front of yourself are slowing down. He was driving fast on the German Autobahn when he was closing up to column of cars at a more regular speed.

      The cruise controlled worked as intended, however, we was a bit nervous as he would have slowed down much earlier, as human drivers tend to slow down more gradually when they have enough time.

      (partially) automated driving is weird, and any measure which allows the driver to lose focus is bad, since in the end, the driver will face jail or death if something goes bad.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Assisted cruise control

        Braking is bad in terms of fuel efficiency. Far better to ease off the gas and slow naturally.

    6. Alex Stuart

      Re: Assisted cruise control

      > I'm really not a fan of these semi-autonomous systems.

      Me either. I also consider them a solution to problems that don't exist, beyond the likes of ABS and auto-emergency-braking.

      Driving just isn't that difficult. I don't even use cruise control, because having my foot pressed lightly on the accelerator is such a trivial inconvenience I have no desire to relinquish control of it - though fair dos if others differ.

      If accident rates are too high then either make the test harder, increase penalties for error (we are very lax on driving offences in the UK and additionally people causing 'accidents' due to not paying attention are not criminalised as they should be - they are just civil insurance issues) or both.

      This is until genuine, ultra-reliable fully autonomous driving is available, at which point, fill yer' boots and we will see a benefit in reduced accidents and less vehicles on the road through robot taxis.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Assisted cruise control

        It’s not all about you Alex. These systems are huge contributors to road safety and more people are alive and safe because of them. Make the test harder, sure, it will make no difference. Drivers are human and come in many different forms. Humans will always screw up.

  7. DS999 Silver badge


    The only thing that will reign Tesla's abuse of the current lack of regulation in "self driving" vehicles is the publicity around trials for stuff like this. They shouldn't be allowed to beta test their software with the general public as unwilling participants.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Good

      While that's true, the drivers are the willing participants. So, there's plenty of blame to go around.

      1. Ben Tasker

        Re: Good

        The people they hit are the unwilling participants ;)

        And that's before you consider whether the drivers have actually given *informed* consent.

    2. Grunchy Silver badge

      Re: Good

      You know what, this reminds me of that old movie, “Christine”. Time for a remake? Instead of one single Plymouth Fury it’s every single Tesla, instead of evil intentions it’s the profoundly blind and stupid autopilot, and instead of the Devil it’s Elon Musk.

      Or, wait… is Elon Musk in fact the real Devil?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Good

        Musk isn't smart enough, even if he plays one on TV.

  8. Grunchy Silver badge

    Musk correctly called Tesla the world’s largest robot manufacturer based on the premise that Tesla cars are technically robots. He’s right. And robots have a well-deserved reputation for spontaneously going out of control and maiming whoever/whatever is within reach.

    The safest robots are locked into a cage just a bit bigger than their operating envelope and nobody and nothing is ever allowed inside so long as the robot is energized. It’s the only certain method of stopping the killing and maiming! And this is deadly real!

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

      On the flip side, I saw a documentary on TV once where they had robots who were providing utility in terms of understanding the binary language of moisture evaporators, speaking Bocce, diagnosing faults in hyperdrive systems, interfacing with Imperial SCADA systems, and serving drinks on your average sail barge.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        I saw that documentary too. There were some with bad motivators, and even one that seemed intent on torturing a prisoner.

    2. SCP

      Automation has led to significant improvements in safety within the aviation industry - though there have been accidents; the demonisation of robots is often overhyped. The cages you mention are more to keep the humans out rather than the robots in.

      In the incident being reported the two tragically killed were the innocent victims and it is with them that our sympathies should lay. Nothing in the aftermath of this is going to return these people to their families and friends; no punishment is going to wash away the hurt. The only possible positive would be that by making people face the consequences of their actions things are changed. In this respect I feel that both the driver and Tesla need to consider, and be held accountable for, the consequences of their actions.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      robots have a well-deserved reputation for spontaneously going out of control

      Of course, a human would never do that.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Though humans aren't bullet-proof...

        1. Stoneshop

          Robots aren't either. You just have to use the appropriate caliber.

    4. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Musk correctly called Tesla the world’s largest robot manufacturer based on the premise that Tesla cars are technically robots. He’s right.

      Technically, household thermostats are robots, since they sense their surrounds, make a decision based on those sensor outputs and then use that decision to affect the outside world.

      1. Evil Scot


        Two different types of metal and a screw = robot.

        That is mums apartment.

        I use geofencing on my thermostat.

        A workaround using Phillips Hue and Apple TV 'cos Hive dont do geofencing themselves.

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: Really?????

          Yup, really. Sensor, decision, effect. That's all you need. What's more, you can programme most thermostats too, by turning the knob.

    5. Stoneshop

      The safest robots are locked into a cage just a bit bigger than their operating envelope

      I would like to see this extended to these cars with their so-called Autopilot features. Only disengage the garage door lock when Autopilot has been disabled.

      and nobody and nothing is ever allowed inside so long as the robot is energized.

      Or that. Refuse to open the car doors to let the driver and the passengers in.

  9. lglethal Silver badge

    New Name for Autopilot needed

    I'm a little bit confused here - so the car left the Highway, but since the "Autopilot" has that lane keeping system, that must mean the Driver either turned off the highway deliberately (which should have disabled the "Autopilot", no?), or the Driver was so oblivious he failed to notice his car leaving the highway (due to the lane keeping system obviously failing).

    Something makes me lean towards the latter because how on Earth, do you go off a highway at speed, not slow down, run a red light and then crash into another car all without thinking to intervene if your paying even the minutest amount of attention? They should definitely throw the book at this guy.

    By the way can we start renaming the Tesla Autopilot to something more appropriate? Murderpilot, perhaps? It wont kill you everytime, but it's quietly waiting for the opportunity! Or how about Chancepilot, becauses chances are you will be fine, but gambling is gambling and one day you might come up snake eyes...

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

      I propose Auto-da-fé.

      Or Nader, from 'Unsafe at any Speed'. Or more severe fines for any company who's driver assist functions turn into assisted suicide devices. Tesla's just an extreme example of hype trumping reality, but personally, I hate this tech. I want full manual control, not driving decisions made by sensors, servos and software.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

        Nader was an idiot. Probably still is. Let's not glorify him, m'kay?

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

      Tesla's lane keeping system is notoriously buggy and stupid, to the point that it has already lead to at least one deadly crash into a lane divider because the Tesla started following the space between an off-ramp lane and the normal lane (

      All these incidents show the dangers of (bad) level 2 and 3 autonomy in road vehicles. The humans get complacent and stop paying attention because it's worked many many times before. A small deviation or change in outside parameters suddenly leads to the system behaving differently and the human just doesn't notice because they've zoned out. Our monkey brains just aren't very good at performing these "mindless" monitoring tasks very well

    3. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

      With no knowledge at all I'd just assumed that route mapping (satnav) was part of the autopilot system and took the car off the big road into the smaller one because that was what it was meant to do.

      Otherwise, what *does* it do?

      1. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

        Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

        If it does follow a satnav route that's pretty terrifying. I notice many errors in the directions when using a satnav, with instructions that clearly indicate the satnav is unaware of priorities at junctions. Stuff like "follow the road to the left" rather than "turn left at the junction".

        1. Steve K

          Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

          The SatNav doesn't have to be aware of priorities - it's only giving directions for the driver to consider and follow

        2. lglethal Silver badge

          Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

          SatNav: Turn left in 100m

          Driver: But there's nothing there but a field and some sheep. And is that a Cliff?

          Tesla: Turning left in 100m

          Driver: No, it's obviously a mistake in the SatNav.

          Tesla: I'm turning Dave.

          Driver: Stop it. No I'm taking back control.

          Tesla: I'm sorry Dave, but I cant let you do that...

          Driver: Ahhhhh......

          1. Grunchy Silver badge

            Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

            It’s like when Boeing programmed their 737 Max to nosedive into the terrain if you weren’t driving fast enough. The first thing they did was investigate the flight deck crew looking for radicalized individuals and exhausted that line of investigation before anyone wondered, “gee what if the robot plane overpowered the crew killing everybody on board?”

            The only reason they didn’t hit the flight deck personnel with charges is because they were the first ones dead. Arresting dead employees might not look right. Luckily they figured out how the buggy programming had turned the jets into mass-murder ‘bots after only two plane-loads of victims, “we figure it might be tidied up now,” said the software team with the latest update.

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

              "The first thing they did was investigate the flight deck crew looking for radicalized individuals and exhausted that line of investigation before anyone wondered, “gee what if the robot plane overpowered the crew killing everybody on board?”"

              uhmm, no, that's not what happened. It's one of the options investigated but ruled out quite quickly. You'll find they look into that aspect for every crash nowadays (particularly after the highly publicized Germanwings crash due to pilot-suicide). Just part of any air crash investigation, nothing is ruled out. Doubts about the MCAS system and it's functionality were already being raised and Boeing was furiously working on damage mitigation and finding ways to keep things under wraps when the second incident occured that finally let to the exposure of the entire sordid affair.

          2. Stoneshop

            Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

            Driver: But there's nothing there but a field and some sheep. And is that a Cliff?

            Media player joins in with "Living Doll"

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

              Tesla's intelligent climate control starts pumping out the scent of fresh cut grass and cow pats...

              ARTHUR: "You keep filling the air with cheap perfume."

              VENTILATION SYSTEM: "You like scented air: it’s fresh and invigorating. "

              ARTHUR: "No I do not! Why is the floor shaking?"

              FLOOR: "Tired nerves and muscles are quickly soothed by gentle floor vibrations. Feel your troubles float away."

              ARTHUR: "Just stop it will you? All of you, STOP IT! Turn the soothing music off! Turn it off! I order you to turn it OFF! Now listen. If I want to be toned up, calmed down, invigorated or anything then it’s very simple: I just have a cup of tea."

              NUTRIMATIC DRINK DISPENSER: "Just dried leaves, boiled?"

              ARTHUR: "Yes."

              NUTRIMATIC DRINK DISPENSER, VENTILATION SYSTEM and FLOOR: "Then why did you build all of us?"

              ARTHUR: "What? I didn’t!"

              NUTRIMATIC DRINK DISPENSER: "Your species did."

              VENTILATION SYSTEM: "You’re an organic life-form."

              FLOOR: "Your lot did it…"

              VENTILATION SYSTEM: "…to improve your lifestyle."

        3. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: New Name for Autopilot needed

          I agree. However any autonomous(ish) driving system has presumably got to follow a route. If it only functioned between turnings it'd be even more useless.

  10. 45RPM Silver badge

    Autopilot should not be marketed as anything other than cruise control. Until the car manufacturer is prepared to take full responsibility for any accidents which take place while the cars software is driving, the functionality should not be marketed as automatic or autonomous.

    But there we go. Another example of Tesla being a triumph of marketing hype over function.

  11. tip pc Silver badge

    Change the name.

    Autopilot confers the notion of autonomous driving but Tesla claim they make clear in their documents that autopilot is not autonomous driving and the driver must be ready to take control at any moment.

    Change the name to assisted drive or something like that and everyone will know from just it’s name that it’s not autonomous.

    It’s clear that Tesla care more about their image than their customers or the public at large.

    A name change will save lives.

  12. Fursty Ferret

    At the moment you can buy an extra called "Enhanced Autopilot" in the UK, and used to be able to do this in the USA. This gives you automatic lane changes on motorways (although in the UK you have to confirm suggestions by the car) but crucially it'll leave the motorway automatically to follow the route.

    I imagine this is what happened here - the driver is, being American, heads down and playing on his phone and the car autonomously signals and leaves the motorway (freeway?) but doesn't stop at the red light at the end of the slip road.

    Almost every road accident and death in the USA is attributable to either alcohol or phone use. Driver assist systems just make these crashes more of a surprise because the startle factor of the car handing control back when it reaches its limits is substantial if the driver has spent the last ten minutes concentrating on WhatsApp.

    1. jake Silver badge

      "the driver is, being American, heads down and playing on his phone"

      Way to paint 330,000,000 people with one brush. Proud of yourself?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Absolutely. Now if he had said morbid obesity ...

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      the driver is, being American, heads down and playing on his phone

      I don't think that trait has any particular nationality association. I've seen phone addiction everywhere I've travelled.

  13. Charles 9

    I think we're in agreement...

    ...that there's room for blame on BOTH the driver (for not paying attention) AND the manufacturer (for advertising something that triggers default human conditioning).

    Driver tests should be stricter, though this raises widows-and-orphans issue if the breadwinner suddenly is unable to go to his/her job.

    Advertisements should be subject to stricter scrutiny, more like testimony (the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth) and with all claims being conservative. But of course businesses have better lawyers so can easily lobby the lawmakers to prevent any such thing. Indeed, the general environment in the US doesn't bode well for the average man going forward.

  14. Herring`

    The comparisons with aircraft auto-pilots are not really valid. Go outside and look up. The sky is massive and not crowded with aeroplanes. Something unexpected happens in a plane, the autopilot disconnects and sounds an alarm, the pilots have a fair amount of time to react and sort it out (OK, maybe not a TCAS RA).

    In a car, on the road, you might be < 1 second travel time from a hazard. That's not much time for the "driver" to become aware that the software isn't handling it, put down their book and take action. Yeah, Tesla are pretty irresponsible for marketing this as "full self driving".

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

      Another thing to remember is that the pilots and aeroplanes flies according to flight rules in order to make it safer.

      We have traffic rules, but most people do not follow it, they make up their own rules as they go along their daily commute.

  15. Luiz Abdala

    Tesla uses cameras to actually see red lights. But it has mistook a full red moon or some ad billboard with red circles for stop lights before. It is all about pattern recognition, you may train the software all you want, you will never get 100% perfection. No wonder Tesla washed their hands here.

    Manslaughter is the adequate solution, missing a parked car in red light, this dude snoozed off, regardless of car.

    Stop sign, for obvious reasons.

    PS. Tesla refusing to add LIDAR is biting them in the ass, big time.

  16. Zebo-the-Fat

    There was the recent case of a woman with a brand new Tesla that was making a noise from the back wheel, she took a video of the car driving slowly past making the noise and sent it to her Tesls dealer. They told her it was "normal" but when checked the car had no brake pads fitted! How can a car leave the showroom without even a basic check that it has brakes?

    Tesla can't be trusted with a simple thing like brakes how can they be trusted with "autoplot"?

  17. John 110

    Traffic lights?

    seems relevant

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Traffic lights?

      So's this!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don’t look, nothing to see here!


  19. Fonant

    Missing the root cause of the problem

    We risk missing the root cause of the problem: cars are intrinsically dangerous, whether driven by human beings or computers.

    The questions are all effectively "where on the risk<->performance spectrum do we want cars to be?".

    If you want safety, you need to have much more control over the environment. See: railways.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Missing the root cause of the problem

      "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." —Benjamin Franklin, 1759

  20. KBeee

    Even worse

    "Riad, a limousine service driver".

    Does this mean the driver was a professional driver? And he STILL managed to let his car take him through a red light and kill 2 people?

  21. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Cannot recall where I've read this story, but still remember it.

    Some guy buys a Winnebago with all the thrills and frills, and take it on a long road trip.

    Of course the inevitable excursion from the highway happened.

    He took the company to court and won.

    His argument - He have engaged the autocruise, and went to the back to make coffee when the unwanted excursion occurred.

    So the argument to rename any sort of cruise control/autocontrol/autopilot/autocruise thing to something less misleading still remain, and people will NOT read the manual, they will ASSUME that it does what it says.

    To counter that sort of idiocy, you'll have to take a compulsory "introduction" class where they will explain the car's features (like autocruise, what it can do and cannot do) and at the end of that class, you sign a waiver agreeing that you will not sue the company for whatever reason should you have an accident and the car was on ~automation control~ and an accident happened and you was too engrossed in your fondleslab game.

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      That story never happened; it’s an urban myth that originated with a joke from the 1970s, when the first Winnebago models were offered with cruise-control.

  22. jollyboyspecial

    It matters not whether Tesla have actually sold Autopilot as a fully automated driving system - that's what the name suggests it is and as such it's a reasonable to expect people to treat it as such. US law is different to English and Welsh law, but in English/Welsh law there is a test of what a reasonable person would understand something to mean. And I think it's safe to assume that a reasonable person would expect "autopilot" to mean self driving.

    Why call it autopilot if it isn't actually an autopilot? Marketing that's why. Putting making money above public safety? Elon Musk? Surely not.

  23. sebacoustic

    open & shut

    ok this case seems pretty obvious: driver not paying atterntion, if he had been, no accident.

    But the Rafaela Vasquez case is more subtle: ok Rafaela wasn't paying attention but if he had been, he might not have seen the pedestrian, stepping out of the dark in front of the car. Can't really blame the Tesla for that either. If it had been a human driver it would probably have been judged "accidental".

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: open & shut

      It wasn't dark. It was night time but the road was well lit. People cross roads in such conditions frequently without issue.

      Surprised the trial hasn't taken place yet though.

  24. TedF

    Autoplilot Dream

    This story confirms my suspicions on the chances of ever arriving at a completely autonomous car; the technology could get 99% there but until fatal autonomous car crashes result in a shrug from the occupants and a hefty bill to the car manufacturer, it's not going to happen.

  25. martinusher Silver badge

    Autopilot is not a novel concept

    We've been living with autonomous vehicles for hundreds of years but because the automation and motive power is organic -- its a horse -- we tend to overlook it. A horse has all the characteristics of Autopilot -- it knows where it is, it can see and avoid obstacles and it can follow a route. It also can get things horribly wrong, ending up being both a danger to itself and the public. Because of this we don't normally let a horse and cart combination loose to drive itself. It can be done, it was common practice when we used these to deliver milk for the milkman to just carry the bottles to the doorstep while the horse just followed along with the cart.

    Tesla's autopilot is good, its probably as smart as a horse and its got far better vision. What it does lack is judgment. A horse can refuse to go into situations that it finds threatening, Autopilot just does what its operator tells it to do, it doesn't argue with the driver about whether a particular course of action is wise based on the probability that charging up an off-ramp at speed is likely to encounter stationary traffic, it does what its told and only reacts when it actually sees the obstacle. (As such it may pass a California driving test but it would almost certainly fail a British one.) So, for now, autonomous driving has to be either closely supervised by a human exercising judgment or restricted to lower speeds where just reacting to immediate events is good enough.

  26. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Even Aircraft

    autopilots will fly the plane into the ground if you let them.

    All it takes is for say the guide slope beacons to be off and the plane wont know what to do... thats why we still have meat sacks in the cockpit because hopefully they'll know what to do and are paying attention.

    It does'nt matter how good the tech on a vehicle is, if the guys in charge of said vehicle are'nt paying attention to what its doing.

    Hence passing signals at danger on railways... or a korean* airlines plane landing short of the runway or this accident.

    You're the meatbag in charge.. pay attention to whats going on.

    *I think it was korean.... may have been another east asian airline

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Even Aircraft

      Korean Air Flight 801 that crashed into Nimitz Hill on Guam is perhaps what you refer.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Even Aircraft

        Flying far too low, and much too slow, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 skimmed the seawall at the approach to SFO's runway 28L on the morning of July 6th, 2013. Amazingly, most of the passengers and crew survived.

    2. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Even Aircraft

      “autopilots will fly the plane into the ground if you let them

      All it takes is for say the guide slope beacons to be off and the plane wont know what to do... thats why we still have meat sacks in the cockpit because hopefully they'll know what to do and are paying attention.”

      On older systems from say before the 90’s that might be a thing, but new systems could be designed to auto go around in a safe manor if the ground based landing system is off line.

      There is huge controls and restrictions on aircraft systems, designed to defeat issues and problems and ensure safety.

      737max is a clear indication of what happens when they cut corners.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Doors

    Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel

    Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel

    Yeah, we're goin' to the Roadhouse

    We're gonna have a real

    Good time

    Liability is obvs. this was settled for ships years ago when a sleeping captain can be found guilty through negligent standing orders.. In other words a program of instructions...

  28. MachDiamond Silver badge

    My favorite autopilot

    is the train.

    For long trips the first option I look at is if the train makes sense. An ideal situation is where it's overnight and I can get a compartment to rack out and sleep while the train bumbles along. HSR is only good for me across large countries. If I can't take the train or want to stop a lot along the way, I'll drive. I'm done with flying on commercial airlines. Too bad there is almost no point to point travel by ship any more. QEII makes a couple of transAtlantic crossings a year and that's about it. Every other cruise ship is out and back again or they prevent you from disembarking mid way.

    Passenger cars are the least viable mode of transport to want to automate. So many other systems lend themselves much better.

    1. Stoneshop

      Re: My favorite autopilot

      Every other cruise ship is out and back again or they prevent you from disembarking mid way.

      Nah, you'd be getting rather wet and it's a bit of a bother taking your luggage with you.

      Yeah, that oilskin jacket and the life preserver, thanks.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My favorite autopilot

      > "For long trips the first option I look at is if the train makes sense...."

      ...and it never does.

      It is always slower, because of the stops, more expensive because trains are economically inefficient, or a pain in the neck because you aren't actually going from one train station to another but to somewhere else that will require 5 buses to get to. Finally, it also becomes impossible if you're carrying anything larger than Ryanair's idea of hand baggage.

  29. Kev99 Silver badge

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