Tesla 'hustled' to develop Autopilot after fatal crash

Woman driving Tesla Model S electric car
(Image credit: Kaspars Grinvalds | Shutterstock)

Tesla has always been quite open with its push to make cars autonomous, to the point where CEO Elon Musk has been a bit overly optimistic (opens in new tab) about the company’s future progress.

But why has Tesla been so pushy with Autopilot and autonomy? According to Elon Musk (opens in new tab) it’s the result of an incident involving a Tesla driver falling asleep, which led to the death of a cyclist.

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This bit of information came out following the story of a Norwegian Tesla owner (opens in new tab) who was caught driving drunk, and falling asleep behind the wheel. Evidently Autopilot recognised that he wasn’t paying attention to the road, and brought the car to a complete stop.

According to Musk, a similar sort of story is the reason why the automaker pushed so hard to get the first version of Autopilot out to Tesla customers. In that instance a driver fell asleep at the wheel, crashed and killed a cyclist in the process. 

While it’s not clear what caused the driver to fall asleep at the wheel, the driver later filed a lawsuit (opens in new tab) claiming that the new car smell made him fall asleep. Unsurprisingly, that lawsuit was not successful.

Autopilot eventually launched in October of 2014, and has steadily been upgraded and improved over the years. It’s still not complete driver autonomy, but it is a tool designed to assist drivers — and ideally make their journeys easier and safer.

Of course, the system is not without its criticism. The name ‘Autopilot’ has been accused of being misleading (opens in new tab) since it’s not completely autonomous. Musk has adamantly defended it since it’s based on the aircraft autopilot systems that are also not completely autonomous.

Tesla has also faced criticism over safety concerns, and recently that was leveled at the fact the company is using its drivers as unqualified safety testers (opens in new tab) rather than doing everything in private with qualified personnel. Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y also lost their IIHS safety ratings (opens in new tab) after dropping radar from Autopilot systems, though both cars have since regained that certification (opens in new tab).

But if what Musk says is true, then it shows that Tesla’s heart is in the right place. While Autopilot has been involved in some high profile crashes, there are always going to be instances where the system prevented some sort of disaster and the majority of us will never know. Which can only be a good thing.

Tom Pritchard
Automotive Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.