Tesla cars can drive with nobody in the driver's seat, Consumer Reports engineers find


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TSLAThe new Tesla Model Y is introduced. Tesla has expanded its model range to include an SUV based on the current Model 3.Hannes Breustedt | picture alliance | Getty Images

Consumer Reports took a 2020 Tesla Model Y on a closed test track to see if the electric vehicle could operate on Autopilot, Tesla’s automated driving system, with nobody in the driver’s seat. CR found it could “easily get the car to drive even with no one in the driver’s seat.”

The test follows a fatal 2019 Model S crash in Spring, Texas, over the weekend that elicited two federal investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Police said, after a preliminary investigation, that they believe nobody was in the driver’s seat of the Tesla at the time of the deadly crash.

Comprehensive investigations have not been completed, and authorities have not said whether Autopilot or Tesla’s premium automated driving system, marketed as Full Self-Driving or FSD, were in use at the time of the collision. Tesla cautions in its owners’ manual that Autopilot and FSD require active supervision.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Monday said in a tweet: “Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD. Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.”

Following Musk’s tweet, Texas police planned to serve search warrants on Tesla in order to secure data from the crash, Reuters reported.

In a statement on Thursday, Consumer Reports’ senior director of auto testing, Jake Fisher, said: “In our test, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention — it couldn’t even tell if there was a driver there at all.”

The Consumer Reports engineers also found that Tesla’s Autopilot — like many systems — can operate where there are no lane lines.

Fisher said, “Any system that looks at lane lines can be tricked. They may see something as a lane line that is not, like a car strip, a curb may be interpreted as landline and so on.” He noted