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Tesla car ‘tricked’ into operating without driver

Image credit: reuters

A Tesla car was “easily tricked” into operating without a driver during an investigation carried out days after a fatal crash, a US magazine reports.

US magazine Consumer Reports said its engineer was able to make a Tesla Model Y continue to travel on a test track even when he moved out of the driver’s seat.

The car automatically steered between white lane lines at speeds of up to 30mph.

The Model Y was tricked into keeping its 'Autopilot' function enabled by keeping the driver’s seat belt fastened, not opening doors when the engineer moved to the front passenger seat, and wrapping a weighted chain around the steering wheel to simulate a driver’s hand.

Tesla’s website states that Autopilot enables a car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane, but its current features “require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous”.

Consumer Reports said the Model Y was “easily tricked” in its test and warned the scenario would “present extreme danger if it were repeated on public roads”.

Jake Fisher, the magazine’s senior director of auto testing, who conducted the experiment, commented: “The car drove up and down the half-mile lane of our track, repeatedly, never noting that no one was in the driver’s seat, never noting that there was no one touching the steering wheel, never noting there was no weight on the seat. It was a bit frightening when we realised how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to the PA news agency’s request for a comment.

Two men were killed on April 17 when a Tesla Model S crashed into a tree in Texas. Police believe that no-one was in the driver’s seat when the collision occurred. Tesla boss Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that “data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled”. He added: “Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.”

However, the police investigating the fatal Texas crash intend to serve Telsa with a search warrant, in order to access and analyse the car's data logs.   

Reuters news agency quoted police constable Mark Herman, from Harris County Precinct 4, saying: “We have witness statements from people that said they left to test drive the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how it can drive itself.” 

Awaiting Tesla's response to their request for accident data, Herman added: “We will eagerly wait for that data”.

The crash is being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board. In total, twenty-eight investigations have been opened into Tesla crashes, 23 of which remain active.

“We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information,” the NHTSA said in a statement. “The most advanced vehicle technologies available for purchase today provide driver assistance and require a fully attentive human driver at all times performing the driving task and monitoring the surrounding environment.”

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