The police seem convinced a “confused” Autopilot system caused a single-vehicle Tesla crash on a New Jersey highway Sunday, but one has to wonder about the driver’s attention level.
According to a police report cited by NJ.com, the Tesla (model unspecified) was operating in Autopilot mode as it travelled down Route 1 in Middlesex County. As it neared the Adams Lane exit, North Brunswick police claim the vehicle “got confused due to the lane markings” and ultimately ended up off the road, taking out several signs in the process.
“The vehicle could have gone straight or taken the Adams Lane exit, but instead split the difference and went down the middle, taking the vehicle off the roadway and striking several objects at the roadside,” the police report states.
If this incident reminds you of a fatal 2018 crash on US-101 in Mountain View, California, you’re not alone. In that event, a Model X operating in Autopilot mode also split the difference between lanes, impacting a concrete divider. A video shot from an Autopilot-enabled Tesla just days later revealed alarming behavior on the part of the vehicle, presumably caused by an intermittent lane marker confusing the Tesla’s lane-holding function.
As yours truly discussed last week, lane holding is a tricky thing. Our roads are imperfect, and so is the technology behind this new crop of driver assistance features.
While it’s very possible that the Tesla involved in the New Jersey incident could have been led astray, a statement made by the driver has us scratching our heads.
“The (Tesla owner) states that he tried to regain control of the vehicle, however it would not let him,” North Brunswick police said.
Given that the automaker — especially since a rash of Autopilot-related accidents — warns drivers to be ready to retake the wheel at a moment’s notice, this statement indicates either a scary malfunction or a lack of attention on the part of the driver (who then crafted a convenient excuse to absolve all blame). As the cops bought the malfunction angle, no charges were laid.
Take a peek at this video and witness how “difficult” it is for a driver to take over from Autopilot. However, without being there, we have to assume the possibility exists that Autopilot, in a rare fit of techo-rebellion, might not relinquish control to the human driver. Unlikely, but possible.
What’s certain is that lane control features are delicate and fallible bits of tech wizardry, regardless of automaker. Drive with caution.