One of the Tesla Model S's most touted features is what the electric car manufacturer calls Autosteer, which combines the car's various sensors to activate a "Traffic-Aware Cruise Control" that effectively sets the vehicle on autopilot. It also lets drivers change lanes by activating the turn signal, enables the car to self-park, and allows dads to prank their children.
Of course, the technology is new, and doesn't always work, as Tesla-owner Chris Thomann learned on a Swiss highway last week.
Thomann's car collided with a truck stopped on the side of the highway after the car in front of him swerved around it. While the collision doesn't seem catastrophic based on the video he posted on YouTube, he writes that, "The whole front of the car needs to be replaced, including a parking sensor and a steel beam."
In Thomann's telling, nothing went as it was supposed to:
1. The TACC, active cruise control did not brake as it normally does
2. The collision avoidance system (AEB) did not make an emergency brake
3. The forward collision warning turned on way too late, it was set to normal warning distance
4. The TACC actually was speeding up just before I did hit the brakes
It's hard to verify the last claim, since Thomann wasn't including his velocity in the recording he made. He also says that when he contacted Tesla they told him "all systems worked as expected."
To be fair (and as YouTube commenters have already gleefully pointed out), there is a paragraph in the Tesla owner's manual that speaks to exactly this situation (emphasis mine):
Warning: Traffic-Aware Cruise Control can not detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 50 mph (80 km/h) and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object, bicycle, or pedestrian is in front of you instead. Always pay attention to the road ahead and stay prepared to take immediate corrective action. Depending on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to avoid a collision can result in serious injury or death. In addition, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control may react to vehicles or objects that either do not exist or are not in the lane of travel, causing Model S to slow down unnecessarily or inappropriately.
Tesla's site says: "Tesla requires drivers to remain engaged and aware when Autosteer is enabled. Drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel." That's not always a rule people follow, and other, stranger stories of autopilot shenanigans, like a guy sleeping in his car while it was on semi-autonomous mode, have already surfaced.
Although it does also sound like he was maaaaaybe on the phone and not paying the utmost attention, this is still a bummer for him. For the rest of us, it's a reminder that when you wanna kick the wheels on new technology, sometimes the wheels kick back.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org