Since it’s introduction, Tesla cars have been on the cutting-edge of innovation. However, to date, the advancements to date made by the Palo Alto-based auto manufacturer have had mixed results when it comes to driver safety.

A car that provides “Autopilot,” once thought to be fodder for sci-fi movies depicting the future, has become a reality. In the process, the so-called “safety feature” has also presented danger on the roads due to mistaken assumptions by drivers.

A Driver’s Responsibility on the Road

The automatic feature ensures that Tesla drivers are in the center of the lane. The car will maintain driving speeds and automatically apply brakes as needed. However, that does not absolve drivers from paying close attention to their surroundings. When using Autopilot, the actual pilot/driver must have their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

Yet, as these features grow in prominence, complacency and overreliance have resulted in catastrophe.

In March of 2019, Tesla’s Autopilot was put to the test with tragic consequences. A driver traveling through Delray, Florida, engaged Autopilot 10 seconds before fatally crashing into a semi-truck. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), he made no attempt to move out of the way and merely flipped a switch, hoping it would avoid a collision.

What’s in a Name?

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study to determine if the actual name of an automated feature makes a difference. Ninety participants were told about an add-on that allowed them not to steer or have their feet on the pedals. Researchers used General Motor’s Super Cruise system that allowed for hands-free driving. The group was misled into believing that two systems were being tested, one called “AutonoDrive” and the other “DriveAssist.”

AutonoDrive focused on driver benefits pertaining to automation. DriveAssist emphasized certain limitations where the driver was still accountable for operating the car.

Forty percent of AutonoDrive “users” believed that the vehicle would, as the name denotes, take action to avoid a collision. Four percent of DriveAssist users shared that belief. Similar numbers and ratios applied when respondents were asked about eating or cellphone use while driving.

Certain cutting-edge technology in automobiles has made driving safer. Overreliance based on brand-name assumptions can negate any benefit and result in split-second tragedy.