Aside from making beautiful cars with an all-electric drivetrain and shooting convertibles into space, Tesla, Inc. is a pioneer in the field of autonomous vehicles. While Tesla’s self-driving Autopilot system isn’t quite ready to be unleashed on public roads, that hasn’t stopped some drivers from already turning the wheel over to the car itself while on busy highways – with disastrous or deadly results. Unfortunately, these incidents have generated a great deal of bad publicity for Tesla. In order to restore public confidence, Tesla has announced it will begin releasing its Autopilot crash reports each quarter. Will it be enough to drive Tesla sales up?
Unlike other self-driving cars, Tesla’s Autopilot systems can ‘learn’ while cars are being driven by human drivers, allowing the system to work out the bugs without giving too much control to the machines (yet). Still, there have been several high-profile incidents of Tesla drivers getting into fatal accidents after ignoring their Autopilot systems’ visual and audible warnings to put their hands back on the wheel, leading to a steep drop in Tesla stock as investors fear the Autopilot system is just too dangerous.
To relieve this investor anxiety, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk stated this week that his company will begin releasing crash data to the public each quarter. As Bloomberg points out, this new level of transparency might come back to haunt Tesla if it shows their Autopilot system isn’t actually as safe as reported:
It’s possible that Tesla will find that driving on Autopilot actually reduces safety — perhaps because drivers get complacent about their responsibility to watch the road. In that case, Tesla should own up to the shortcomings and see what it can do to keep drivers on task. However, if Autopilot is truly as good as Musk claims — if driver safety actually improves when Tesla owners flip the switch — then this move to make the data public is critical for changing laws, behavior and the public’s perception of what’s safe and what isn’t.
Despite these claims of transparency, many still remain skeptical given that Musk and Tesla have complete control over which data is released to the public. Will quarterly crash data be enough to restore confidence in Tesla’s Autopilot?