Chinese Tesla Owner Crashes Car While On Autopilot, Files Complaint

A displeased Chinese Tesla owner recently filed a complaint against Tesla Motors after his car crashed while on autopilot on a highway in Beijing.

The 33-year-old driver, Luo Zhen, reportedly had the autopilot of his Tesla Model S car activated when it accidentally collided with a car that was illegally parked on the left side of the road. While nobody was hurt, both cars incurred some damage, according to Reuters.

Luo blamed the company’s false advertisement for the mishap that occurred last week. He claimed that the salesperson who sold him the vehicle implied that the car’s self-driving mechanism could fill in for the driver through its advanced autopilot system. It was an extra feature, Luo wrote on Weibo, that he had to pay an extra $4,150, or 27,500 yuan, for.

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Lou, a programmer for a tech firm, told Reuters:

“The impression they give everyone is that this is self-driving, this isn’t assisted driving.

“They use this immature technology as a sales and promotion tactic…but they don’t take responsibility for the safety of the function.”

Wall Street Journal pointed out that the issue may have been caused by a misunderstanding in translation. In China, the autopilot feature has generally been promoted as “zidong jiashi” (自动驾驶), which is a literal translation of the car being able to drive itself.

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Zhong Shi, a Beijing-based automotive analyst, explained:

“China’s way of referring to these technologies is a big problem. Though a similar risk exists for the term Autopilot in the west, Chinese consumers are less likely to read the instruction manual.”

Tesla responded to the allegations by elaborating on the technicalities of its product. A Tesla spokeswoman sent the following statement in an email to Reuters:

“As clearly communicated to the driver in the vehicle, Autosteer is an assist feature that requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times, to always maintain control and responsibility for the vehicle, and to be prepared to take over at any time.”

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The company also made note that Luo’s hands were not on the wheel at the time of the crash despite a warning that appeared on the panel. The autopilot system is designed to remind drivers to place their hands on the wheel if they have had their hands off the wheel for a certain amount of time.  It is even programmed to automatically halt if drivers do not heed the warning.

Tesla made headlines earlier this year following a fatal accident in Florida. Consumer Reports recently suggested that it would be better for Tesla to require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel as part of an updated driver-assist system. They also pointed out that the autopilot name promotes “a potentially dangerous assumption” that the vehicle is capable of driving on its own.

Consumer Reports vice-president of consumer policy and mobilization Laura MacCleery said:

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“By marketing their feature as ‘autopilot’, Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security. We’re deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology. ‘Autopilot’ can’t actually drive the car, yet it allows consumers to have their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time.”

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