New tests of automatic braking systems found a worrying flaw — and 2 Tesla models did the worst

Tesla Model 3
The Tesla Model 3 didn’t do well in the tests.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

New tests of automatic braking systems in cars found some worrying problems with the technology, and two Tesla models were the worst performers.

Test carried out by research group the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that some braking systems may not notice stopped vehicles, and could even steer cars into a crash rather than away from it.

In a series of tests created by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), published in a report on Tuesday , five cars were set to drive at 31 mph toward a stationary object with the adaptive cruise control turned off, but with automatic braking on.

The five models tested were:

  • A 2017 BMW 5-series with its “Driving Assistant Plus” function.
  • A 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class with “Drive Pilot.”
  • A 2018 Tesla Model 3 with “Autopilot.”
  • A 2016 Model S with “Autopilot.”
  • A 2018 Volvo S90 with “Pilot Assist.”

The stress test found that the Tesla Model 3 and Model S were the only two models that didn’t stop in time.

Both cars had braked and lessened the impact of a crash, but still hit the stationary item.

The Tesla Model S.

However, in a separate test with the adaptive cruise control turned on, the IIHS found that the Tesla models decelerated gradually and braked earlier than the other cars.

This occurred in a test simulating multiple cars driving in a row, where all the cars suddenly had to stop.

In fact, the IIHS noted that the Model 3 was prone to what it called “unnecessary or overly cautious braking.”

While travelling a distance of 180 miles, the car unexpectedly slowed down 12 times, seven of which after spotting tree shadows on the road, and the others for vehicles traveling toward it in another lane or crossing the road far ahead.

Jessica Jermakian, a senior research engineer at IIHS, said: “The braking events we observed didn’t create unsafe conditions because the decelerations were mild and short enough that the vehicle didn’t slow too much.

“However, unnecessary braking could pose crash risks in heavy traffic, especially if it’s more forceful.

“Plus, drivers who feel that their car brakes erratically may choose not to use adaptive cruise control” — which was turned off in the first test that the Teslas failed — “and would miss out on any safety benefit from the system.”

The Teslas performed the best when it came to staying within their lanes on curves and hills, however.

Results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s tests on electronic driver assist systems, published in a report on August 7, 2018.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The IIHS in particular highlighted the fatal crash of a Tesla Model X in March as evidence of the shortcomings of driver assistance systems.

The car, which was driving while the semi-autonomous Autopilot software was engaged, crashed into a highway barrier in Mountain View, California, and caught fire. The driver, Walter Huang, died after being taken to the hospital.

Tesla later released a statement saying that Huang must not have been paying attention for the accident to take place, “despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so.”

The episode, the IIHS said , “demonstrates the operational limits of advanced driver assistance systems and the perils of trusting them to do all of the driving, even though they can’t.”

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