DETROIT — Consumer Reports magazine is calling on electric car maker Tesla Motors to change the name of its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system and to disconnect the automatic steering feature after a fatal crash in Florida.
The magazine says in a statement that calling the system Autopilot promotes a dangerous assumption that Teslas can drive themselves. It also says the automatic steering should be disconnected until it’s updated to make sure a driver’s hands stay on the steering wheel at all times.
In an email, a Tesla spokeswoman said the company has no plans to change the name, and that Autopilot is safer than cars operating without the electronic assistance of cameras, radar and computers. “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 the media,” the spokeswoman said.
The magazine’s calls come after former Navy Seal Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, died in a May crash in Florida with the Autopilot on. The system didn’t detect a tractor-trailer that had turned in front of Brown in bright sunshine, and Brown didn’t react. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the wreck and the Autopilot system.
Naming the system Autopilot gives drivers a false sense of security, said Laura MacCleery, Consumer Reports’ vice president of consumer policy. “We’re deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology,” she said in a statement.
Autopilot, she wrote, can’t actually drive the car, but it lets consumers keep their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time.
She called on the Palo Alto, California, company to disable automatic steering until it updates the computer program to make sure a driver’s hands are on the wheel.
TOM KRISHER AND DEE-ANN DURBIN