Consumer Reports Shows How Easy It Is To Use Tesla Autopilot With No One In The Driver's Seat

Illustration for article titled Consumer Reports Shows How Easy It Is To Use Tesla Autopilot With No One In The Driver's Seat
Screenshot: Consumer Reports

A fatal Tesla crash this weekend that involved an apparently driverless Model S has renewed safety questions about Tesla Autopilot, including whether there are enough safeguards to ensure drivers are paying attention while it’s engaged. Consumer Reports found this week that the answer is, uh, no.


CR set out to see if it could engage Autopilot, Tesla’s driver-assistance system, on its Model Y with no one in the driver’s seat. It successfully did so on the organization’s closed-course test track in Connecticut after easily bypassing the safeguards. From CR:

[Jake Fisher, CR’s senior director of auto testing] engaged Autopilot while the car was in motion on the track, then set the speed dial (on the right spoke of the steering wheel) to zero, which brought the car to a complete stop. Fisher next placed a small, weighted chain on the steering wheel, to simulate the weight of a driver’s hand, and slid over into the front passenger seat without opening any of the vehicle’s doors, because that would disengage Autopilot. Using the same steering wheel dial, which controls multiple functions in addition to Autopilot’s speed, Fisher reached over and was able to accelerate the vehicle from a full stop. He stopped the vehicle by dialing the speed back down to zero.

“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,” Fisher says. “It was a bit frightening when we realized how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient.”

CR also did a short video of the test, while also being quick to urge you not to do this at home.

As CR notes, there are many things that Tesla could’ve done differently to make this impossible. Those measure would include adding a seat sensor or having a system like GM’s Super Cruise, which uses a dashboard camera to monitor the driver’s eyes, ensure that a person is paying attention to the road.

Tesla’s system, on the other hand, appears to make sure only that the driver’s seatbelt is connected, the doors are closed and that there is pressure on the steering wheel, whether that is from a human hand or not.


You might argue that anyone intentionally using Autopilot while not in the driver’s seat deserves whatever comes next, but the people that this driverless Tesla could crash into don’t. After all, Autopilot is imperfect. Further, the point of pretty much all car safety tech is to save people from themselves. If you ever see a driverless Tesla on the road, meanwhile, I’d recommend moving away quickly.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.



I’m going to preface this with: I’m not a Tesla owner or a fanboy.

I find it odd that they are calling this “easy.” For one, you have to plan ahead to do this. You have to buckle your seatbelt behind you before you do anything else. Then you have to find something to hang on the wheel. Then you have to crawl over without bothering the doors or the seatbelt.

If I wanted to do this in my Hyundai, I could. I can take off my seatbelt while the car is moving, and it would just ding. If I got out of my seat, I doubt the cruise control would do anything. I’m sure it would not pull safely off the road and turn on the hazards.

So people are putting lots of pressure on a single company to figure out every single way a person can abuse a feature and account for it. I feel like lots of things can be misused and people can get hurt. Saws, drills, sanders, etc. all tell the user to wear gloves and eye protection before using to stay safe. Are we going to start requiring Ryobi to install cameras on their saws to verify that people are wearing eye protection?

Tesla has tried to account for human error, but I don’t think it is their responsibility to plan for blatant abuse of their system. When you get the car, you acknowledge that you know how the system works and that it is your responsibility to use it properly. Sure, Tesla can add safeties to lower the amount of people misusing their cars, but I doubt you could ever make a perfect system. People always find a way to use something improperly, especially if it comes with online views and ad revenue.