Elon Musk has said that Tesla’s autopilot system could one day feature a mode that would allow a “slight risk” of a collision.
Speaking at an event on Monday that focused on Tesla’s plans for autonomous vehicles, the company’s CEO said that as it became more confident in its systems, the US car maker would allow motorists to select more aggressive driving modes, including those that might risk a crash.
Mad Max Mode
Tesla owners in some parts of the world already can already use Navigate on Autopilot, which can suggest lane changes and execute the move itself. It features several settings which will decide if an overtake is necessary based on the speed of the car in front. These range from mild, where there needs to be a significant speed difference, to “Mad Max” where even minor differences will prompt a lane change.
At Monday’s event, CEO Musk told the audience that Tesla could push this mode further to allow a “non-zero chance of a fender bender”, although he didn’t set a timescale for this.
Not a serious accident
During a question and answer session a Tesla owner asked Musk how the Autopilot system could better deal with Los Angeles’ notorious traffic. He complained that currently his car wasn’t aggressive enough in moving into gaps.
Musk responded by saying that Telsa was currently being conservative but as it gained confidence it would give users the choice of more aggressive modes.
He said: “In the more aggressive modes and trying to merge in traffic, there is a slight, no matter how minute, there is a slight chance of a fender bender.
“Not a serious accident. But basically you’ll have a choice of: do you want to have a non-zero chance of a fender bender on freeway traffic, which unfortunately is the only way to navigate LA traffic.”
— Jim McPherson (@SafeSelfDrive) April 22, 2019
Given that the ability to reduce collisions has been a major selling point of advanced driver assist systems and autonomous vehicles, Musk’s comments have caused controversy.
The suggested setting has already been dubbed “accident mode” on social media and industry observers have questioned how the mode ties into Tesla’s pledge that customer safety is its top priority.
Some have also questioned what the setting could mean for liability if there was a collision.
Despite previously claiming that its cars already feature all the systems necessary for full self-driving, Tesla has repeatedly insisted that Autopilot remains a driver assistance system and the driver is responsible for controlling the vehicle at all times.