Consumer Reports calls for Tesla to disable ‘Autopilot’ until it can be made safer

Was Tesla’s Autopilot mode too much autonomy, too soon? Consumer Reports seems to think so.

On Thursday, the publication called for the automaker to disable its hands-free operation until the system can be made safer. Consumer Reports came to this decision after its experts concluded that some Tesla owners believe that the vehicles can drive themselves, creating the hazardous situations of drivers not being engaged enough to react to emergencies quickly.

In the report, Laura MacCleery, vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for Consumer Reports, said:

By marketing their feature as ‘Autopilot,’ Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security. In the long run, advanced active safety technologies in vehicles could make our roads safer. But today, we’re deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology. ‘Autopilot’ can’t actually drive the car, yet it allows consumers to have their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time. Tesla should disable automatic steering in its cars until it updates the program to verify that the driver’s hands are on the wheel.

Tesla wasn’t having it at all, firing back its own biting response to Consumer Reports and standing firmly by the feature:

Tesla is constantly introducing enhancements, proven over millions of miles of internal testing, to ensure that drivers supported by Autopilot remain safer than those operating without assistance. We will continue to develop, validate, and release those enhancements as the technology grows. While we appreciate well-meaning advice from any individual or group, we make our decisions on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by media.

Ouch. The automaker added that “130 million miles have been driven on Autopilot, with one confirmed fatality.”

Consumer Reports’s call for action comes a week after federal regulators sent a letter to Tesla, requesting details about Autopilot, including logs of when the technology has alerted drivers to take over steering.

That request is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s continued investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot. The automaker has faced scrutiny over the feature since a fatal Model S crash involving Autopilot on May 7. Last week, Tesla vowed that drivers using Autopilot are safer than regular drivers.