Elon Musk: “Journalists Should Be Ashamed” For Linking Autopilot With Tesla Crash

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Tesla chief Mr. Elon Musk did not mince his words when describing media coverage of a recent accident involving his company's vehicle earlier this month. Report of the crash was broken by The Wall Street Journal, who speculated at the possibility of Tesla's semi-autonomous driving software, the unfortunately dubbed "Autopilot," to be involved in the crash. Tesla's Autopilot has received extensive scrutiny for potential involvement in accidents, as it reduces driver input required while operating the company's vehicles. His comments came during the investor call following Tesla's first-quarter earnings report earlier today.

Musk Decries "Deceptive Media Practices" Surrounding Autopilot In Vehicle Crash

The executive's response came to a question put forward by a retail investor asking whether Tesla plans to form a press relations department for countering negative reports about vehicle crashes.

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Host: And the fourth question from retail investors is does Tesla have any proactive plans to tackle mainstream media's imminent massive and deceptive clickbait headline campaigns on the safety of Autopilot or FSD? Perhaps a specialty PR job of some sort?

Musk: I think it's just worth just going through the facts of the...what...specifically there was an article regarding a tragedy where there was a high-speed accident in a Tesla...and there was really just extremely deceptive media practices where it ws claimed to be Autopilot when this is completely false and those journalists should be ashamed of themselves.

The remains of a Tesla Model S crashed in Houston, Texas, earlier this month. Image: Scott J. Engle/Reuters

Following his reply, Tesla's vice president for Vehicle Engineering, Mr. Lars Moravy, highlighted his company's current take on the matter when he followed up by outlining:

Yeah thanks Elon. So I was just saying we are committed to safety in all our designs and that's you know number one in what we do here. Regarding the crash in Houston specifically, we worked directly with the local authorities, NTSB, and wherever applicable and whenever they reach out to us for help on the engineering level on whatever else we can support. In that vein we did a study with them over the past week to understand what happened in that particular crash and what we learned from that effort was that auto steer did not, could not engage on the road condition that as it was designed. Our adaptive cruise control only engaged when the driver was buckled and about five miles per hour. And it only accelerated to 30 miles per hour to the distance before the car crashed. As well, adaptive cruise control disengaged the car fully complete to a stop when the driver seat belt was unbuckled.

Further investigations of the vehicle and accident remain. We inspected the car with the NTSB and NHTSA and the local police and were able to find that the steering wheel[?] was indeed deformed so there was...leading to the likelihood that someone was in the driver seat at time of the crash. And all seat belts post-crash were found to be unbuckled. We were unable to recover the data from the SD card at the time of impact but the local authorities are working on doing that and we await their report. As I said we continue to hold safety in a high regard and look to improve our products in the future through this kind of data and information from the field.

Jake Fisher, Consumer Report's senior director of auto testing, successfully engages Autopilot in non-real world conditions by placing a chain on the steering wheel to simulate the weight of a human hand. The vehicle's seat sensors which detect weight for other purposes, are not programmed to work with Autopilot. Image: Consumer Reports

The accident in Texas was thrown into the spotlight when reports emerged that no one was present in the driver's seat when it took place. According to reporting by The New York Times, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman stated that evidence recovered from the scene suggested that there was no one present in the vehicle's driving seat at the time of the crash. He added that the two passengers were seated in the passenger and rear seats.

Soon after the crash, Musk took to Twitter to highlight how The Journal's reporting on the matter was inadequate. He lamented the lack of research by the publication and highlighted how research conducted by a private individual was better than that conducted by professionals. The executive concluded by stating that data logs from the vehicle demonstrated that Autopilot was not turned on and the owner had not purchased Tesla's Full Self Driving package.