Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto, California, and has disbanded its press office, did not immediately respond to inquiries about Consumer Reports’ assertions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are in the early stages of an investigation into the Texas crash. Local authorities said one man was found in the passenger seat, while another was in the back. The car veered off the road, crashed into a tree and burst into flames, authorities said.
Investigators should be able to determine whether the Tesla’s Autopilot system was in use.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter Monday that data logs “recovered so far” show Autopilot wasn’t turned on in the Texas crash, and “Full Self-Driving” was not purchased for the vehicle. He did not respond to reporters’ questions posted on Twitter.
In the past, NHTSA, which has authority to regulate automakers and seek recalls for defective vehicles, has taken a hands-off approach to regulating partial and fully automated systems for fear of hindering development of promising new features.
But since March, the agency has stepped up inquiries into Tesla, dispatching teams to three crashes. It has investigated 28 Tesla crashes in the past few years, but thus far has relied on voluntary safety compliance from auto and tech companies.
Also on Thursday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Edward Markey, D-Mass., asked federal officials to conduct a thorough investigation of the Texas crash and make recommendations for improving automated driving.
In the Consumer Reports test, Fisher said he engaged Autopilot while the car was in motion on the track, then set the speed dial to zero to stop it. Fisher then affixed a small, weighted chain on the steering wheel to simulate the weight of a driver’s hand. He then slid over into the front passenger seat where he was able to accelerate and decelerate the vehicle.
“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 said. “It was a bit frightening when we realized how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient.”
Consumer Reports noted the test was performed on its closed track and that “under no circumstances should anyone try” to duplicate it.
“Let me be clear: Anyone who uses Autopilot on the road without someone in the driver seat is putting themselves and others in imminent danger,” Fisher said.