Last week, Tesla offered to settle a lawsuit brought by Model S and X owners who felt the optional Autopilot driver assistance system was “essentially unusable and dangerous.” In a company statement, Tesla said, “Since rolling out our second generation of Autopilot hardware in October 2016, we have continued to provide software updates that have led to a major improvement in Autopilot functionality.”
The settlement agreement makes reference only to the delayed response of Autopilot features. The ‘winners’ of the suit will receive somewhere between $20 and $280, even after spending about $5,000 for an upgrade that features automated emergency braking, side collision warning, and the Autopilot software suite, all of which the vehicle owners described as “completely inoperable.”
Telsa is also offering to place $5 million in a fund to compensate owners and pay lawyers’ fees. The settlement still needs to be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman.
Despite Tesla repeatedly touting studies that claim its’ Autopilot system can reduce vehicle crashes by up to 40 percent, high-profile incidents continue to cloud the technology. Most recently, an incident in Utah saw a Model S in Autopilot mode crash into the back of a stopped firetruck. The driver of the vehicle told police she thought the vehicle's automatic emergency braking system would detect traffic and stop before hitting another vehicle. She also stated that the car did not provide any audio or visual warnings before the crash.
Car data shows that the driver was not touching the steering wheel for nearly a minute-and-a-half before the collision. This data contradicts Tesla’s guidelines regarding Autopilot which instruct drivers to stay attentive while in Autopilot mode and to keep their hands on the wheel so they can take over in case conditions change.
It should also be noted that the driver suffered only a broken foot, despite hitting a parked fire truck at 55 mph.