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Yes, you can still trick a Tesla to drive itself with no one in the driver’s seat

This was prompted after a recent fatal crash involving a Tesla.

Tesla’s Autopilot features are great as a driving assistant, but they should never be used for fully self-driving. While that is the goal for the company, we are still a long way from that future.

Recently, a fatal car crash involving a Tesla Model S has investigators and researchers looking to see if Autopilot was engaged during the time of the crash. Investigators at the scene stated that it seemed as if no one was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash.

Elon Musk has refuted this, stating that Autopilot was not engaged at the time of the crash and that the model the owner purchased did not have Full Self-Driving mode.

Regardless, Consumer Reports, who has had multiple issues with the company, decided to test out how easy it is to trick a Tesla into using Autopilot without someone in the driver’s seat. Surprisingly, it’s still very possible.

“In our test, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention–it couldn’t even tell if there was a driver there at all,” says Jake Fisher, CR’s senior director of auto testing.

consumer reports tesla no driver
Image: Consumer Reports

On a closed track, CR was able to engage Autopilot on a Model Y and then used the knob on the steering wheel to lower the speed to 0 MPH. Then, they used a weighted chain to simulate a hand on the steering wheel and then switched seats without opening any of the doors. From there, it was just a matter of using that same knob to increase the car’s speed.

“The car drove up and down the half-mile lane of our track, repeatedly, never noting that no one was in the driver’s seat, never noting that there was no one touching the steering wheel, never noting there was no weight on the seat,” Fisher says. “It was a bit frightening when we realized how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient.”

The report also notes that Tesla is falling behind in safety regarding driver-assist features. They note that BMW, Ford, GM, and Subaru all use camera-based systems to track drivers’ eye movements and some will even slow the car to a stop if it notices that drivers aren’t paying attention.

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