Tesla Autopilot Scored Lower Than Systems From Mercedes, BMW

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The Tesla Model X. Image credit: Tesla

Beaten by rivals? European safety assessment scores Tesla Autopilot system lower than similar systems from Mercedes, BMW, and Audi

Telsa Autopilot and other driver assistance systems from other car manufacturers have been evaluated in a European safety assessment, which produced mixed results for Elon Musk’s company.

Tesla gained an overall score of 131 and a rating of ‘moderate’, but its Autopilot driver assistance system score was surpassed by rival systems from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

The issue of driver assistance systems has been growing in importance after a number of fatal accidents in recent years.

Safety study

Matters are also not helped with cases such as when a Canadian man two weeks ago was charged by Alberta police after he and his passenger slept in fully reclined seats (see above picture) whilst their Tesla drove along a highway in autonomous mode at speeds of more than 140kph (86mph).

Into this mix comes the European New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), which worked with UK insurance group Thatcham Research, to produce its findings on driver assistance systems.

It said the assessments were the first consumer ratings specifically focused on driver assistance systems.

So what exactly did it find?

Well Reuters reported that the study had ranked Tesla’s Autopilot sixth in 10 driver assistance systems, with a scoring low on its ability to keep drivers engaged.

The Tesla Model 3’s Autopilot reportedly scored just 36 when assessed on its ability to maintain a driver’s focus on the road.

That said, it gained the highest marks for performance and ability to respond to emergencies, receiving an overall score of 131 and a overall rating of ‘moderate’.

Rival systems

But some systems from rival car makers achieved better ratings.

The Mercedes DAIGn.DE GLE’s system reportedly achieved the highest overall score of 174 and received the top rating of ‘very good’. It also received a score of 85 for driver engagement. Most other vehicles had scores of 70 or above for driver engagement, Reuters reported.

Are we ready for ready for driverless transport?

In addition to the Mercedes GLE, the BMW BMWG.DE 3-Series and the Audi VOWG_p.DE Q8, received the highest rating of ‘very good’ while two models (the Renault RENA.PA Clio and the Peugeot PEUP.PA) received the lowest rating of ‘entry’.

“Unfortunately, there are motorists that believe they can purchase a self-driving car today,” Matthew Avery, a Euro NCAP board member and research director at Thatcham Research was quoted as saying. “This is a dangerous misconception that sees too much control handed to vehicles that are not ready to cope with all situations.”

Last month MIT researchers released a study that found that Tesla drivers were more distracted when they use the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot that is in Tesla vehicles now. The researchers said the findings support calls for Tesla to take more steps to keep drivers attentive.

The MIT researchers also found that 33 percent of Tesla drivers did not have their hands on the wheel prior to taking control of the car from Autopilot.

Safety issues

Tesla’s Autopilot has also previously been criticised by the US National Transportation Safety Board for allowing drivers to turn their attention from the road.

American safety regulators have investigated 15 crashes since 2016 involving Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot.

In March last year, a US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report concluded that a fatal Tesla crash in March found that Autopilot was engaged for 10 seconds before the crash.

The roof of the Tesla Model X was sheared off and its 50-year-old driver was killed when the vehicle drove under the trailer of a semi truck that was crossing its path in March 2019.

That March incident had similarities to a May 2016 crash in which a Model S also drove under the trailer of a semi truck crossing its path. That crash found that autopilot had failed to detect the white trailer against a bright sky.

Autonomous driving

Yet despite these concerns, the battle over driver assistance systems and autonomous driving is heating up.

In July this year, Elon Musk said that Tesla is “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology.

For those that don’t know, level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving technology, as level 5 vehicles will not require human intervention, and need for a human drivers is eliminated.

Indeed, it is said that level 5 cars won’t even have steering wheels or acceleration/braking pedals.

These cars will be free from geofencing, and will be able to drive anywhere, and do anything that normal car with a human driver can do.

Tesla cars currently operate at a level-two Autopilot, which requires the driver to remain alert and ready to act, with hands on the wheel.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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