Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been extremely critical of the way the media portrays accidents involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot.

Now, we have a better idea of why it bothers him so much. The CEO said that Tesla is actually able to detect dips in Autopilot use from its fleet when there’s negative media coverage.

During Tesla’s Q1 2018 conference call yesterday, Musk was asked if Tesla is seeing an increase in Autopilot miles driven by its customer fleet.

He said that they are seeing “a steady increase in the percentage of miles driven using Autopilot” and that it now represents about “one-third to half of the highway miles in some regions.”

But it’s what he said next that was most interesting:

Of course, when there’s negative news in the press, it dips. This is not good because people are reading things in the press that causes them to use autopilot less – and then that makes it dangerous for our customers, and that’s not cool. That’s why I’m against that.

Musk is saying that Tesla is able to link negative press coverage about the Autopilot directly to decreases in the usage of the driver assist system.

The CEO then clarified something that we have been suspecting for a long time now:

One of the common misimpressions is that when there is, say, a serious accident on Autopilot, people – or some of the articles – for some reason think that it’s because the driver thought the car was fully autonomous and it wasn’t, and we somehow misled them into thinking it was fully autonomous. It is the opposite.

When there is a serious accident, it’s in fact almost always, maybe always, the case that it is an experienced user and the issue is more one of complacency. They get too used to it. That tends to be more of an issue. It is not a lack of understanding of what Autopilot can do. It’s actually thinking they know more about Autopilot than they do, like quite a significant understanding of it.

Importantly, Musk still insists that statistics show that driving with Autopilot activated is safer than without. In order to prove it, He announced that Tesla plans to start publishing safety statistics on a quarterly basis.

Electrek’s Take

Lots of interesting comments here. Of course, I can’t wait to dive into that statistics report. There are many ways to present those numbers, but Musk insists that it will be “unequivocal”. Let’s see it.

Speaking of data, I’m also surprised that Tesla can see a direct impact of negative press coverage on Autopilot usage.

Tesla’s fleet is now quite large and I find it surprising that owners will be so much influenced by the media coverage that they would decide to stop activating the system, especially since the accidents are most often linked users not paying attention when using Autopilot.

It means that either Musk is right and the press coverage is misleading people into thinking that Autopilot is not safe even when it is used properly or users don’t trust themselves to pay attention to the road and those accidents convince them to stop using Autopilot – or use it less.

Either way, I find this situation quite fascinating.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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