Consumer Reports says Tesla Autopilot recall fix ‘not enough’

Consumer Reports has deemed Tesla’s solution to the Autopilot recall, affecting over 2 million vehicles, as “insufficient” based on preliminary tests. Kelly Funkhouser, associate director of vehicle technology at the nonprofit organization, revealed that it is still possible to obstruct the cabin camera while using Autopilot, effectively undermining one of the primary methods for the car to monitor driver attentiveness.

Funkhouser observed no discernible differences in the performance of Autopilot’s flagship feature, Autosteer, outside controlled-access highways, where Tesla specifies its intended use. While acknowledging the limited scope of their testing, concerns persist about Tesla’s approach to driver monitoring, a critical aspect of the recall.

Consumer Reports, known for its rigorous evaluation of Tesla’s technology and vehicles, plans to conduct more comprehensive testing in the coming weeks. The nonprofit has yet to assess additional modifications, such as more prominent visual alerts on Model 3 sedans and Model Y SUVs, as it has only received the over-the-air software update on its Model S sedan.

Tesla introduced a suspension policy deactivating Autopilot for one week upon detecting “improper usage.” However, Funkhouser reported not encountering such usage during two drives of 15 to 20 miles each.

The recall, announced last week, affects over 2 million cars in the U.S. and Canada amid an ongoing two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The focus is on the Autosteer feature designed to keep a car centered in a lane on controlled-access highways.

Despite Tesla instructing drivers to pay attention and keep their hands on the wheel while using Autosteer, NHTSA found these checks “insufficient to prevent misuse.” Tesla’s Autosteer isn’t restricted to controlled-access highways, allowing activation on other roads with specific conditions met.

As part of the recall, NHTSA stated that Tesla would implement “additional checks” when engaging Autosteer outside controlled-access highways and approaching traffic controls. Concerns arose among owners about potential limitations akin to other automakers’ systems, like Ford’s Blue Cruise and General Motors’ SuperCruise. YTYT, YTYTYTYTYTYT

Contrary to fears, Funkhouser’s tests indicate that extreme measures to avoid the update, such as disconnecting Tesla’s cellular or Wi-Fi radios, may not be necessary. Despite Tesla’s claims of enhanced driver attentiveness requirements in the release notes, Funkhouser noted that the changes were not apparent in her preliminary testing.

The ambiguity surrounding the modifications to the camera’s monitoring capabilities leaves uncertainty about the extent of Tesla’s adjustments in the update. NHTSA declined to comment, directing inquiries to Tesla, which, lacking a press department, adds to the challenge of obtaining clarifications. Funkhouser emphasized the lack of explicit details in Tesla’s communication about the changes, stating, “None of this is very prescriptive or explicit in terms of what it is they’re going to [change].”