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Tesla may be paving the way for autonomous electric vehicles in the auto industry, but that still comes with criticism over the technology’s failures.
Elon Musk, recently named Time Magazine’s 2021 Person of the Year, sat down with Time’s editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal to talk about his work, including increased scrutiny over accidents caused by the company’s self-driving technology.
“There’s something somebody said to me at the beginning of when we were pursuing autonomy: even if you save 90% of the lives, the 10% that you don’t save are going to sue you,” Musk told Time, noting he’s seen month-to-month improvement in Tesla self-driving capabilities.
He continued: “I think it’s one of those things where you’re not going to get rewarded necessarily for the lives that you save, but you will definitely be blamed for lives that you don’t save.”
Musk’s comments come as Tesla continues to face legal problems over its autonomous driving technology, which has been linked to 12 accidents since 2018. Some Tesla drivers are suing over fatal crashes, while others are seeking legal action against the company for allegedly misrepresenting and using deceptive marketing for its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving services.
In an interview this week with the Financial Times — which also selected Musk as its 2021 Person of the Year — Musk said he believes he hasn’t misled or risked the safety of Tesla owners with self-driving technology.
“I don’t think there’s a CEO on this planet that cares more about safety than me,” Musk told the Financial Times.
According to Musk, he vigorously pushed to develop Autopilot, which he told Time can make driving more efficient and save millions of lives per year. When activated, Tesla’s self-driving technology is designed to monitor the surrounding environment, keeping the car centered in its lane and a safe distance away from other cars.
It does not make the car drive itself, according to the company, and still requires the driver’s full attention to avoid accidents.
In the second quarter of 2021, the company recorded one crash for every 4.41 million miles driven using Autopilot technology, compared to one crash for every 1.2 million miles of a Tesla car driven without Autopilot, according to Tesla’s Vehicle Safety Report.
In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began investigating 765,000 Tesla vehicles produced since 2014 after Full Self-Driving software caused 11 accidents involving first-responder vehicles, killing one and injuring 17 others.
According to letters sent to Tesla in September, the NHTSA asked for more information about its non-disclosure agreements with vehicle owners and asked Tesla to recall vehicles if a software update is required to fix a safety defect. Tesla updated Autopilot shortly after the investigation started in an attempt to address the issues.
Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that Musk berated a Tesla manager who proposed implementing a system to monitor for Autopilot malfunctions during development of the program in 2015. The system would’ve included a computer chip and additional hardware as safeguards, but Musk said it would slow the Autopilot’s development progress, according to the Times.
Tesla was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment from Insider.