DETROIT — The trade association representing most major automakers is offering guidelines for manufacturers to advertise partially automated driving systems and ensure drivers are careful when using them.
The Automotive Innovation Alliance says its members support the voluntary principles, which come as two federal agencies step up review of Tesla’s Autopilot assistance system after two men were killed in a fire crash near Houston. Such systems can keep vehicles centered in their lane and a safe distance behind the traffic ahead.
But Teslas on Autopilot have been involved in multiple crashes, including multiple fatalities, when neither the system nor the driver intervened. Teslas struggled to deal with stopped emergency vehicles or tractor-trailers crossing in front of cars, or bloody spots on freeways. Critics, including some lawmakers, have said the name Autopilot is misleading and implies cars can drive themselves.
The alliance, which represents at least 20 automakers including General Motors, Ford and Toyota, released the principles ahead of a Tuesday U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on the future of automotive safety and technology.
The principles state that any vehicle with such a system should be fitted with a driver monitoring system as standard. Cameras should be considered to ensure drivers have their eyes on the road, and monitoring systems should be designed so that they cannot be ‘disengaged or disabled’ while partially automated systems are operating , according to the list of principles.
Automobiles should issue warnings and take corrective action such as disengaging automated systems or increasing the distance between vehicles if drivers are not careful, according to the list.
The alliance includes automakers that account for about 99% of the industry’s vehicle sales in the United States, but Tesla is not a member. It was not immediately clear whether the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company would participate.
The principles, developed over the past year after discussions with the insurance industry, regulators and consumer groups, aim to educate consumers about the limitations of robotic driving systems, said John Bozzella, CEO of the covenant.
The effort is to dispel the notion that technology has advanced to the point that human intervention is no longer necessary — something Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised will happen soon with his company’s electric cars.
“To my knowledge, no vehicle on the US market is an autonomous vehicle,” Bozzella said.
Messages were left seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations office. The company said Autopilot is an assistance system and drivers should be ready to intervene at all times.
Yet Tesla continues to market its self-driving technology as “autopilot” — the kind of misleading moniker the alliance is trying to discourage with its new guiding principles. Tesla critics have lambasted Musk and company for overstating the capabilities of its technology, tricking drivers into thinking they needn’t worry about taking control of the vehicle or even encouraging some drivers to get on. the back seat while the vehicle navigates the road on its own.
“There is no doubt that the high-profile accidents have raised issues of consumer acceptance and trust,” Bozzella said. “System names and promotional material should not be misleading. The potential for driver abuse should be assessed as part of the design process.
Tesla uses sensors on the steering wheel to determine if the driver’s hands are there. But unlike most other automakers, Autopilot doesn’t use cameras to make sure drivers are engaged. Critics say Tesla’s system can easily be fooled.
The alliance principles also come as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board investigate the Houston-area Tesla crash in which local authorities said no one was driving. Tesla says the steering wheel was damaged, indicating a human was behind the wheel at the time of the crash, and the seat belts were unbuckled.
Authorities in Harris County, Texas say investigators are sure no human was driving the car. One man was found in the front passenger seat, the other in the back seat. They were going to use search warrants in their investigation.
NHTSA has sent investigators into 28 Tesla crashes, with 24 of the investigations still active. The agency, which has regulatory authority over the auto industry, said that with the change in President Joe Biden, it is reviewing the regulation of automated vehicles.