In April 2021, a terrible accident occurred in the US state of Texas. A Tesla car with two passengers flew off the highway at high speed, crashed into a tree and began to burn. It took the firefighters 4 hours and more than 120 thousand liters of water to put out the fire. Subsequently, the burnt bodies of two men were found inside the car: the first was sitting in the front passenger seat, and the second – in the back. Before the trip, they told their wives that they wanted to ride the car and mentioned the autopilot system. There was really no one in the driver’s seat, so the media began to write that the accident was the fault of Tesla’s automatic driving system. Our editorial staff immediately had a question: how could the autopilot system be turned on if no one was driving? After all, Tesla cars carefully ensure that while driving on autopilot, a person sits in the driver’s seat and holds on to the steering wheel. A very mysterious story has happened – now I will tell you everything that is known at the moment.
Tesla crash in Texas
The fatal accident occurred on April 18 and became known about it thanks to The Verge… Two elderly men from the Texas city of Spring got into a car that did not fit into a turn and crashed into a tree. The police said that at the time of the accident, there was definitely no one in the driver’s seat. It has been argued that Tesla’s autopilot is to blame for the deaths of the men. Many people easily believed it, but the owners of electric cars from Elon Musk strongly disagreed with the police version.
The fact is that Tesla cars carefully ensure that the driver always sits behind the wheel and watches the road. If the driver’s seat does not feel the weight of a person in the driver’s seat, his face is not in the camera view and no one is holding the steering wheel – the autopilot simply does not work. All this is done because the system still cannot fully control the vehicle and must be constantly monitored. Tesla’s autopilot can only follow a given lane, park on its own, keep its distance from other cars and avoid collisions. In any dangerous situation, the driver must take control.
How to trick Tesla’s autopilot?
However, Tesla’s autopilot can be easily fooled. One of the popular hackers recently said that the system starts working if a photo of the driver is hung in front of the camera inside the car. Even if the image does not move, the software thinks that the person is watching the road closely. The hand tracking feature can be fooled by simply stuffing a large orange into the steering wheel. And the pressure sensors on the driver’s seat are simply turned off when deceived by the methods mentioned above.
Apparently, it was these tricks that were used by people who posted provocative videos with Tesla cars. In 2018, a man was stripped of his license for sitting in a passenger seat with his arms thrown back behind his head while driving an electric car. And in 2020, the blogger lay down to rest in the back seat while the car was driving on autopilot. True, it did not last long.
How safe is Tesla autopilot?
The accident in Texas is shrouded in mystery. Not only that, the Tesla car could not go on autopilot while the driver was in the passenger seat. Elon Musk generally said that the owner of the electric car did not buy the Full Self Driving feature, which costs $ 10,000. So at the moment it is impossible to answer exactly what happened on the Texas road. We could assume that the men were simply cheating on Tesla’s security system and resting in the passenger seats. But this is impossible if there was simply no autopilot in the car.
The fatal accident happened at a very inopportune time for Tesla. Many regulators began to seriously question the company’s autopilot safety. In March, the NHTSA began investigating 23 accidents involving Tesla vehicles that may have been the autopilot’s fault. There have been seven fatal accidents in the manufacturer’s vehicles in the past 5 years, with the autopilot system being blamed most.
In 2016, Tesla representatives boasted that their cars drove about 210 million kilometers with the autopilot on. In comparison, ordinary cars kill people every 97 million kilometers of total mileage. In 2017, the NHTSA administration confirmed this data – according to statistics, in Tesla cars with the autopilot on, airbags are deployed 40% less often. From this we can conclude that vehicles with an autopilot are safer than with manual driving. But it is too early to draw hasty conclusions and it is better to wait for the results of new investigations. In the aftermath of the April accident, such cases will clearly be closely scrutinized.
Most accidents in Tesla cars are people’s fault. The company is trying in every way to make sure that drivers follow the road even when the autopilot is on. But no – people want to outsmart technology and relax behind the wheel. In 2018, a Tesla car drove into a concrete divider and caught fire, after which the driver died in hospital. The investigation revealed that during the accident, the owner’s hands were not on the steering wheel and his attention was clearly directed to the smartphone. In 2016, another person crashed in a Tesla car – it turned out that in 37 minutes of the trip he held the steering wheel for only 25 seconds.
Finally, it is worth noting that the problem with Tesla cars is not only the autopilot. The company uses lithium-ion batteries for power supply, which can explode and burn from a strong shock even in the absence of oxygen. It took firefighters about 4 hours to put out a car in Texas. To do this, they had to call Tesla and consult with the company’s specialists.
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