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Monday, 21 June 2021 22:38

The Tesla Autopilot Excuse: How EV Ignorance Created the Perfect Storm for a Misinformation Nightmare

Written by Simon Alvarez, Teslarati
A Tesla Model 3 that burned after a crash in April in Texas. A Tesla Model 3 that burned after a crash in April in Texas. NTSB

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...investigators were 100% sure that there was no one driving the car when it crashed. This statement was gold to numerous media outlets, with some, like the New York Post, posting a tweet noting the Tesla was on Autopilot.

 

It’s pertinent to note Herman never mentioned Autopilot, though his statement declaring that there was no one in the driver’s seat seemed like a strong enough link to the driver-assist suite. 

 

Soon, even organizations such as Consumer Reports joined the fray, graciously demonstrating Autopilot could indeed be “fooled” into operating without a human in the driver’s seat. Consumer Reports' walkthrough was thorough, showing audiences exactly what needs to be done to defeat Autopilot’s safety measures.

 

This stunt caught the eye of both national and international media as well, and by this time, the narrative was set: Teslas can drive themselves without a driver, and Autopilot could kill. It’s a chilling thought, but it seemed to be casually supported by Ford CEO Jim Farley, who shared Consumer Reports' Autopilot defeat device walkthrough on his personal Twitter page. 

 

This does not mean to say the narrative surrounding the fatal Model S crash in Texas was ironclad, however. Just days after the initial crash, Palmer Buck, fire chief for The Woodlands Township Fire Department, told the Houston Chronicle that contrary to some reports in the media, the Model S was not ablaze for four hours. The fire chief also stated firefighters did not call Tesla for help, and he was unaware of any hotlines for tips on how to control a battery fire. 

 

The First Cracks---And a Persistent Misunderstanding

 

Even Herman seemed less sure about his information later, noting in a statement to Reuters his investigators were “almost 99.9% sure” there was no one in the driver’s seat of the car. This was despite Herman noting they had executed a search warrant on Tesla to secure data about the tragic incident.

 

Meanwhile, CEO Elon Musk went on Twitter to state data logs so far showed that the vehicle was not on Autopilot when it crashed. 

 

Tesla’s online community took it upon themselves to...