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How Human Nature Could Foil Tesla's New Autopilot

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Teslas system is designed for drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road, but that is a lot to ask.

Experts warn the autopilot option installed in most Tesla vehicles could cause unsafe driving conditions.

Credit: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Researchers and driving safety experts warn the new autopilot option installed in most Tesla vehicles, which at times will require motorists to assume control of their vehicle immediately, could cause unsafe conditions as checked-out drivers are not ready to safely do so.

"If because of the automation, inattention goes up substantially, then the number of crashes could well go up," notes Princeton University's Alain Kornhauser.

The autopilot feature alerts Tesla drivers via a chime and a visual cue to situations in which they need to take the wheel, but the hazard is their reaction time will not always be fast enough to avoid the danger. A recent Stanford University study determined a two-second warning--more time than Tesla drivers are assured--was not sufficient to expect drivers to be able to safely retake control of a vehicle that switches from autonomous to manual mode. The researchers found test subjects given five seconds of warning could safely retake control of the vehicle.

Human nature dictates the better the technology, the less alert and more inattentive a person is likely to be to the task at hand. Tesla's system is geared for drivers who keep their hands on the wheel so they are still aware of the road, but it will continue functioning even if there are no hands on the wheel.

From The Washington Post
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