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Tesla: Model X Accident Caused By Driver Error, Not Autopilot (computerworld.com) 596

An anonymous reader writes: Tesla has responded to a recent report from a Model X owner claiming their vehicle suddenly accelerated at "maximum speed" by itself, jumped a curb and slammed into the side of a building while his wife was sitting behind the wheel. They said it analyzed vehicle logs, "which confirm that this Model X was operating correctly under manual control and was never in Autopilot or cruise control at the time of the incident or in the minutes before. Data shows that the vehicle was traveling at 6 mph when the accelerator pedal was abruptly increased to 100%. Consistent with the driver's action, the vehicle applied torque and accelerated as instructed. Safety is the top priority at Tesla and we engineer and build our cars with this foremost in mind. We are pleased that the driver is ok and ask our customers to exercise safe behavior when using our vehicles." When will people stop lying about Tesla's Autopilot mode crashing their cars? One Tesla owner recently filed a Lemon Law claim against the company over a high number of quality control issues.
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Tesla: Model X Accident Caused By Driver Error, Not Autopilot

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  • by invictusvoyd ( 3546069 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:04AM (#52265155)

    slammed into the side of a building while his wife was sitting behind the wheel.

    hmm ok . Happens.

    • Re:No one hurt . (Score:5, Informative)

      by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @05:09AM (#52265559)

      You may laugh, but, from the actual article:

      "researchers found that there were seven to 15 crashes per month in the U.S. caused by pedal application errors. Females were the drivers in nearly two-thirds of the pedal misapplication crashes identified in crash databases and in a media scan used in the study."

      • Re:No one hurt . (Score:5, Informative)

        by prefect42 ( 141309 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @07:36AM (#52265969)

        This isn't something I can imagine doing anywhere near as badly in a manual. You panic, you stomp brake and clutch. Miss the brake and go for the accelerator, and you rev like crap but don't accelerate. You miss the clutch, you stall it. Seems like quite a challenge to miss the clutch and hit the foot rest, whilst simultaneously missing the brake and hitting the accelerator.

        http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfil... [nhtsa.gov]

        Researchers reviewed each crash narrative to determine whether the crash actually resulted
        from a pedal application error. Of the 2,930 crashes, 2,411 were caused by a driver applying the
        accelerator when he or she intended to apply the brake. Fifty-eight were the result of the driver’s
        foot slipping from the brake and pressing the accelerator, 47 were the result of the driver pressing
        the wrong pedal in a vehicle with manual transmission (either clutch or accelerator rather than the
        brake, or the brake rather than the clutch). Reviewers determined the remaining 414 crashes not to
        11 be the resultt of a pedal misapplication; these 519 incidents were therefore excluded from the present
        analyses.

        • by houghi ( 78078 )

          It is, I think, just how humans function as a human under stress. They want to slow down and in an automatic that means pushing down on a pedal. If you have the wrong pedal, you will accelerate. That means your brain says :push harder on that pedal to slow down and you go even faster till you either hit something or you realize you are pushing the wrong pedal.

          In a shift car, slowing down means taking your foot OFF the pedal and shift down and back on the pedal. That means you will correct the handing of the

        • Re:No one hurt . (Score:4, Insightful)

          by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @10:02AM (#52266875) Journal
          I've only ever owned manual transmission cars. I've always liked the ability to feather the engine or disconnect it from the wheels entirely. Even today, the clutch and manual transmission are almost always mechanical assemblies, not fly-by-wire. When Toyota was having all those issues with unintended acceleration, I'll admit that I felt smug, knowing that I had the ability to disconnect the engine, coupled with decades of experience that makes depressing the clutch instinctual.

          For various reasons, my next car is likely to be a plug-in hybrid or pure electric. I'm going to miss that capability.
        • I drive manuals, too. But they do have their problems in this type of situation. I had a friend who was rear-ended by a manual driver, twice. A driver first hit the clutch, but missed the brake and rolled (at a rather high speed) into him. Then, after the hit and rebound, her foot came off the clutch, at which point the engage engaged again, and lurched her back into him.
  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:07AM (#52265167) Homepage

    Not being funny...

    but if the logs show 100% acceleration, that just reflects the sensor value. Not that the user - or indeed anything else like a dropped handbag - actually pressed the pedal that far.

    Although I'm always the one to shout "user error" first, and that's quite likely in this case, the logs alone are not sufficient to prove fault. Only to act like a flight recorder and say what the sensors recorded and what the machine did in response to that input.

    How the sensor got that reading could still be manufacturing fault, cable fatigue, or a million and one other things not the fault of the driver.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Funny)

      by invictusvoyd ( 3546069 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:11AM (#52265187)

      How the sensor got that reading could still be manufacturing fault, cable fatigue, or a million and one other things not the fault of the driver.

      Your argument is valid but "his 45 year old wife behind the wheel" gets priority .

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by E-Rock ( 84950 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:13AM (#52265197) Homepage

      I think the bigger point is that the car wasn't in autopilot mode at the time. I don't think the drivers are realizing that they can check and call them on their bullshit.

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

        Indeed. To me this has all the hallmarks of insurance fraud and/or an attempt to get off negligent driving charges.

      • It might not have been in whatever they officially call autopilot, but modern cars suddenly accelerating due to control system failure is, unfortunately, not unheard of.

        Of course, neither is someone confusing the accelerator and brake pedals while in a panic that the car is suddenly speeding up. We don't know enough to say what really happened here from what I've seen so far.

        • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ADRA ( 37398 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @04:32AM (#52265447)

          Rapid acceleration due to controller failure AND the lack record for brakes being applied at the same time? That sounds unlikely. Possible, but unlikely.

          • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by beanpoppa ( 1305757 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @11:18AM (#52267461)
            I did have an issue with an Audi several years ago. My cruise control would periodically turn itself on. They checked the computer, and it was reading occasional faults in the cruise control switch, so they replaced it. The problem continued. Sometimes over bumps, but also sometimes when I would turn on my turn signal. The turn signal and cruise control switches were both stalks on the left side of the column. The dealer read the codes again, and again said the cruise control switch was reporting faults and wanted to change it again. When I protested, and pointed out that it would turn on when I turned on my turn signal, they assumed that I was mistaking the two stalks. (to which point I asked them to investigate why my turn signal was turning on when I activated my cruise control...) It was only after the service manager finally driving it around and being able to duplicate the issue that they believed me. They ultimately replaced the control module in the steering column, which contained both switches, which solved the problem. Not saying that the brakes and gas pedal go into the same control module, but I can certainly see a case where the control module has a fault which is reading the wrong input.
      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        Depends what Tesla thinks by the term and what some driver might think if their car suddenly developed a mind of its own and started uncontrolled acceleration. I might call it autopilot too (in a Death Proof kind of way) if it happened to me. Not saying that's what happened but its certainly possible.
      • I think the bigger point is that the car wasn't in autopilot mode at the time. I don't think the drivers are realizing that they can check and call them on their bullshit.

        Generalizing a question, does a certain 'mode' have to be activated for a bug in software/firmware to cause a problem with a device that might currently be in another mode?

        I would say no.

        To give a legacy car analogy, cruise control can be disabled and the gas pedal could still get stuck at full acceleration.
        http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/... [go.com]

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        It's likely she just assumed or said it was autopilot when the car accelerated without her commanding it to. Maybe she had the mat laying over the accelerator, maybe she pushed the wrong pedal, maybe the sensor failed.

        This is the nature of bug reports from users, vague and sometimes misleading but not always just user error.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )
        FTFA:

        suddenly and unexpectedly accelerated at high speed on its own

        I don't see any mention of autopilot in TFA. Maybe he claimed it was on autopilot somewhere else, but not here.

        That said, everything about this indicates she stepped on the accelerator instead of the brakes.

    • by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:15AM (#52265205)
      I'd be inclined to agree with you but for one thing... A few years ago Tesla let BBC Top Gear test a Roadster, and Jeremy Clarkson lampooned the vehicle in a way that annoyed Elon Musk. Ever since then Tesla have put a *lot* of data capture capability and performance monitoring into all of their vehicles, specifically to stop these sorts of claims.

      If Tesla are saying that the telemetry from the black box shows 100% throttle, then at this juncture, I'd be inclined to believe them.

      Years ago I spent my spare time helping a friend run his garage business, which included running a contract with a local Police force to recover accident-damaged vehicles. I saw numerous examples of situations in which drivers of automatic cars [and all Teslas are automatic by default] encountered something unexpected on the road. Their first instinct was to slam down on the brake pedal, but you would be amazed at how many managed to hit the throttle by mistake. In the panic and shock of an event, the body can lock up involuntarily, especially, if you think about it, if your car suddenly shot forward under the full acceleration that a Tesla is capable of...

      It's way too early to say without more concrete data, but based on the above two points [knowledge of Tesla's extensive telemetry and personal experience of real-world examples like this] my "Occam's Razor" punt would suggest that something happened, the driver panicked, hit the wrong pedal, and the rest is history...
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:34AM (#52265271)

        I did this a few weeks ago.... I was driving along a fairly empty road and had to go past a parked vehicle, so I tapped the brake and to my horror the car went faster! I realised afterwards that I'd been driving for a while and I wasn't sitting completely straight to the wheel, so my feet weren't aligned with the pedals. Then I moved my foot across, too far, and now I was punching between the clutch and the brake (pressing both pedals, but weirdly because they have different pressures) - nothing was working, total madness! It was dark and i couldn't see my feet, and I sailed past the parked car at speed before I finally realigned and got back in control.

        Whereupon I straightened myself up, slowed down, and spent the rest of the journey muttering shit...shit...! It'd never happened before, I didn't even consider it a risk. Scary.

        • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @07:02AM (#52265869)

          Good of you to admit it.

          I did it once on a rental car after driving for 12 hours... We were on loose gravel and only created a shower of dust. I caught the mistake instantly, but it was enough for my passenger to take over driving. If it were clean asphalt and I were in a sportscar, it would have been a wreck.

          FTA: "She knows the difference between brake and accelerator pedal. " - it's amazing how people attribute it to knowledge and discredit "not knowing" as a question of intelligence. The car was 5 days old, it takes more time than that to become intimately familiar with the car.

          The reflex reaction to the car lurching forward when you hit the brake is.... hit the brake harder...

          And it's ridiculous that the article is interviewing her husband.

          • by benro03 ( 153441 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @12:16PM (#52267895)

            There was a study recently about going on "autopilot" while walking or driving (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201404/the-dangers-going-autopilot [psychologytoday.com]) and how people avoided obstacles, but didn't truly notice them. Part of the experiment was to bend a branch to head height and then place dollar bills on it. People avoided the branch, but didn't notice the money even when it was waving right in front of them. They even a large sign announcing that a psychological experiment that explained what was going on place in the middle of a path. When asked shortly afterwards about the obstacles, people didn't remember them. They just avoided them.
            People get into a car and automatically behave as if they've been driving that car or road regularly, even a new one. They zone out, react to a normal occurrence and because of their unfamiliarity with the vehicle/road do the wrong thing.

          • by barc0001 ( 173002 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @12:50PM (#52268181)

            > The car was 5 days old, it takes more time than that to become intimately familiar with the car.

            This is a key piece. I was astonished when I bought a new car how different everything felt for a few weeks. I'd had the old car for 12 years and everything was second nature in it but it takes a while to get used to a new vehicle's layout and handling.

      • I'm a little suspicious of it being exactly 100% max throttle. If it's an analog A/D you'd think it would be like 100.01% or 99.95% or some in-exact value. It would also be essential to record the intermediate values from 0% to 100%. A jump from 0% immediately to exactly 100% seems a little suspicious to me. Or it could just be the software discretizing the analog data from the pedal at a low sample rate. We don't have the source code to really know.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          I don't know about Tesla's design, but drive-by-wire cars often have, in addition to one or more throttle position sensors, a "closed throttle position sensor" and a "wide open throttle" sensor, each corresponding to precisely 0% and 100% respectively.

          Even if Tesla didn't use these, one would expect that the DSP driving the throttle sensor(s) would be calibrated to run from 0 to 100% and truncate any values over that, rather than feeding out-of-spec data onwards into the system.

          Furthermore, there is nothing

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Their first instinct was to slam down on the brake pedal, but you would be amazed at how many managed to hit the throttle by mistake

        In "The book of the Ford", a "missing manual" type book for the Model T Ford written some time around 1920, it mentions that the Model T Ford was designed to stop when both pedals were pressed down at once due to this instinct.
        I say both pedals since there was no clutch pedal. It used brakebands instead of a clutch and all gear changing was handled by hand instead of hand and

      • by sociocapitalist ( 2471722 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @04:47AM (#52265491)

        I'd be inclined to agree with you but for one thing... A few years ago Tesla let BBC Top Gear test a Roadster, and Jeremy Clarkson lampooned the vehicle in a way that annoyed Elon Musk. Ever since then Tesla have put a *lot* of data capture capability and performance monitoring into all of their vehicles, specifically to stop these sorts of claims.

        The problem is that the sensors are recording what happens but not why it happens. The sensor can say that the throttle was 100% but it doesn't actually record the movement of a biological leg and foot - it assumes it.

        Toyota has recalled cars because of the gas pedal sticking. If that were to happen in a tesla, the sensors would show the throttle going to 100% and would blame the driver when in fact the car was at fault.
        http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/... [go.com]

    • How the sensor got that reading could still be manufacturing fault, cable fatigue, or a million and one other things not the fault of the driver.

      Designing a pedal sensor that errors to 0% is expected. So when one of those million things goes wrong you do not get the 100% acceleration experienced in this situation. A far more likely scenario is that something dropped onto the acceleration petal. Alternatively, when in a state of shock, the driver mistook the acceleration petal for the brake.

      • In the spirit of advocacy for the Devil, one of the issues that I had with my 1985 Ford Escort was the throttle position sensor. Luckily applying 100% torque to a 1.6L, 70 HP engine only produces 119 Nm of torque (vs. over 900 Nm for the Tesla). Hmmm... weight, about 1000 kg vs about 2200 kg, still a pretty big difference. I'd rather have the bad TPS in a 1985 Escort than at 2016 Model S.

        Certainly in 1985 the TPS position probably wasn't logged. Mass market fuel injection for cheap cars was still in its inf

        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          A lot of cars still don't log values at the TPS, it'll report with a tool connected but that's it. A buddy of mine owns a garage and recently had a car(2013 enjoying those 3 year warranties up here in Canada yet?) in and he couldn't figure out what the problem was, at times the car would stall at others it would would run at the maximum RPM under no motion(around 4200RPM) according to the vehicle speed sensor and sometimes it would be just fine for days on end. TPS sensor showed no errors to the ECM eithe

    • Re: Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:22AM (#52265227)

      She claimed it was in autopilot.. It appears it was not. How does a sensor reading explain that?
      It's called arse covering and blame shifting.. People do it all the time.
      If she had described an unexpected acceleration while manually driving then the story may wash..

      • by qbast ( 1265706 )

        She claimed it was in autopilot.. It appears it was not..

        She claimed, Tesla claimed otherwise. Actually I would expect that in case of some strange error, the autopilot disengages immediately so Tesla can truthfully says it was not on during time of accident.

  • I am sure that on the surface it seemed like a good idea to try and blame the car for the couple.
    No doubt they wanted to avoid the major increase in insurance premiums and the long wait time for a replacement car.

    Nowadays though, with all the tech in cars, it is much easier to check what happened.
    Technically, they could now be on the hook for filing a false police report and insurance fraud.

    On the other hand, it is possible that it was an honest mistake. It happens regularly that someone "thinks" they have

  • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:41AM (#52265287)

    Serious question... is this open information that the driver or owner of the car can read, or is this super secret encoded info that only Tesla has access to?

    Do we simply take their word for what the logs say? Is there any way to check via 3rd party that this is in fact what happened and there is a secure means of ensuring the data isn't changed?

    This is important, sooner or later it'll end up in court and this will come up. "Trust us" is not an answer.

  • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @03:54AM (#52265319)

    So Tesla tracks everything to do with your car, people here seem to love them...

    Yet bring up Microsoft and Windows 10 and all that tracking and everyone goes all crazy and how "evilz" MS is...

    What's up with that?

    • by SJ ( 13711 )

      Intent counts for a lot.

      History has shown us that Microsoft will do everything they can to screw with their customers in any way possibly.

      So far, Tesla has been incredibly customer friendly. Until that changes, the data they collect serves to make their products better.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        So far, Tesla has been incredibly customer friendly. Until that changes, the data they collect serves to make their products better.

        When that changes...

        Tesla is a public company... Google made the "don't be evil" promise once as well, it'll never last...

    • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @05:04AM (#52265539)

      That was my question exactly.

      Why does no one object when I place a camera on the floor of a factory for safety reasons?

      But everybody gets hysterical when I place that same camera in the employee toilet looking directly at the employees taking a dump?

      What's up with that?

  • Couldn't this be fixed by installing a photocell or proximity sensor or something that would tie in with the test of the data to confirm if it was the pedal depressed or it was a bad potentiometer? Bad pot gives 100% throttle, photocell confirms pedal was/wasn't depressed? It couldn't be that hard and would go a long way towards settling this one way or another.
  • Driver: "Autopilot, I need you to stop until the high speed cross traffic has cleared."
    Autopilot: "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave."

  • Audi 5000 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ronin441 ( 89631 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @06:33AM (#52265787) Homepage

    Reminds me of unintended acceleration in Audi 5000s: drivers swore that the vehicle accelerated at full power while they had their foot hard on the brake. Of course, their foot was in fact on the accelerator.

    Sudden unintended acceleration#Audi_5000 [wikipedia.org].

    Eventually a motoring journalist did the obvious experiment: what happens when you press both pedals at once? At speed or at rest, the brakes won.

    Design was a factor: the brake and accelerator were sized and positioned so as to make this mistake easier to make in the Audi 5000 compared to many other cars.

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @07:15AM (#52265909)
    Determining if it's a sensor problem is easy in the vast majority of cases with a single sensor. Sure a common sensor failure can register an end point value like 0 or 100%, as those are the most common failures. But most systems can set up where full pedal is only 90% throttle, full off is 10%, and that shows a failure right there. Similarly with good resolution a human in a bumpy vehicle cannot hold a sensor at an exact value for long either, again showing a failure (just like how force sticks in old keyboards rezero).

    Simply sampling the pedal 10k times a second is another way. A pedal is a physical device and as such probably cannot be moved through its travel much faster than in 0.1 seconds. You should have one thousand readings showing a smooth transition from unpressed to fully pressed. That is a world of difference from going from unpressed to pressed in 0.0001 seconds - a single sensor reading time sample

    Another common sensor fault is getting lots of jitter. Again you can see that the sensor can't be functioning realistically because real pedals cannot move that fast.

    Add in a bunch of very simple algorithms and it's pretty easy to approach 100% accuracy in determining if a sensor is feeding correct data or not. It's so trivial and sensor design 101 that I can't imagine all three of these are not already in the tesla.
  • by Cutriss ( 262920 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2016 @08:06AM (#52266115) Homepage

    Probably won't get noticed 150+ comments deep, but...

    Perhaps the default configuration for the pedals should be a failsafe mode where the car is always "under control". When you slam the brake, you trend toward 0 MPH. If you slam on the gas, maybe the pedal interprets 100% as 0%, and applies no throttle. If you're accelerating, you should always have control of the accelerator. Flooring it isn't going to give you much more than 95% throttle would, and you could have a tactile bump at the end of the accelerator play that is easy sensed when you feather your foot, but also easily bypassed if you slam the pedal.

    Basically, allow people to still gun it, just not outright "drag racing", and prevent unintended acceleration.

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