The Autopilot feature offered by the California-based electric car maker Tesla has been the subject of a great deal of media scrutiny of late. Tesla owners have claimed on blogs and Internet forums that their vehicles behaved erratically and crashed when the autonomous feature was turned on, and Tesla has refuted a number of these claims by releasing the data that its vehicles constantly transmit back to its Palo Alto headquarters.
One such exchange took place between Tesla and a Model S driver in China. The driver claimed that the Autopilot system was enabled when his luxury electric sedan scraped the side of a stationary vehicle. While footage captured by a dashboard mounted camera supported the man's account of events, Tesla claimed that the accident was still caused by human error because the driver had taken his hands off the steering wheel.
News coverage is generally sensationalist in nature, and accidents caused by a new safety feature will always attract more attention than crashes that are prevented. This could explain why the account of a Tesla owner traveling from Las Vegas to Los Angeles has failed to generate the kind of media attention that other Autopilot stories have enjoyed. The driver says that the Autopilot system braked aggressively but not excessively when a car cut across the highway right in front of his Model S, and he believes that he would have been unable to perform the maneuver himself even though he had both hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road at the time of the incident.
The kind of data that Tesla vehicles record can also be useful to police officers investigating automobile crashes and personal injury attorneys pursuing civil remedies on behalf of car crash victims. Negligent drivers are rarely eager to admit that they behaved recklessly, and attorneys may use the information captured by the data recorders installed in most newer vehicles to establish that accidents could have been prevented.