Elon Musk has responded to the story of a Tesla car crashing into a parked police car while using the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature — and he’s not impressed. The CEO, who has criticized the reporting around crashes like these, shared on his Twitter page Thursday a link to a Google search for “automotive deaths per year worldwide.”
The California crash, reported by the BBC on Wednesday, is the latest in a number of reported crashes resulting from Tesla Autopilot, which requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain focus. Musk’s link, which he claims he shared “just for perspective,” leads to data from the World Health Organization that shows around 1.25 million people died in road traffic accidents in 2013. Tesla plans to upgrade Autopilot to offer full autonomous driving, a move that Musk believes could prove incredibly safe thanks to advanced artificial intelligence and ultrasonic sensors able to see obstacles before humans can spot them.
It’s not the first time Musk has criticized media reports of crashes. In the company’s first-quarter earnings call this month, Musk criticized media portrayal of Autopilot as less safe than human drivers as “really incredibly irresponsible […] because people might actually turn it off, and then die.” In response to an Autopilot crash in Utah earlier this month, Musk said that “it’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage.”
Some Tesla owners are unhappy with Autopilot as it stands today. Motorist You You Xue, who was involved in an Autopilot crash last week, wrote on his Facebook page that “the vigilance required to use the software, such as keeping both hands on the wheel and constantly monitoring the system for malfunctions or abnormal behaviour, arguably requires significantly more attention than just driving the vehicle normally.” While this issue could be resolved in a fully-autonomous system, it suggests some dissatisfaction with current implementations.
All eyes are on Tesla’s next earnings call, likely to take place in August, where the company is expected to provide updates about the development of Autopilot and its progress towards a fully autonomous system.
In some ways, the focus on autonomous crashes is expected — Shashi Verma, chief technology officer at Transport for London, said in November 2017 that “the world is perfectly happy killing half a million people on the roads every year […] the first robot that kills a person will be a news story.”