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Car and Driver: The Musk Hangs Firm: Tesla Won’t Disable Autopilot Feature in Wake of Fatal Crash

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2015 Tesla Model S P85D

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In the wake of the first known fatality in a car being operated with autonomous features engaged, the maker of that vehicle isn’t walking back from its aggressive rollout of the technology. We’re talking, of course, about Tesla—and per a report from the Wall Street Journal, the man at the firm’s helm, Elon Musk, has declared his company will not disable the Autopilot feature in customers’ cars. It instead will work to better educate customers as to its functionality.

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Tesla has the ability to lock out Autopilot features—after all, many customers who received their Teslas before the tech was fully ready had the required radar and camera hardware, but didn’t have Autopilot activated until a later over-the-air software update (this includes our car, as we have a long-term Model S). A similar software update could disable Autopilot, if Tesla wanted to do that.

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Regulators’ investigation into the fatal Tesla crash is ongoing; so far, it’s the only fatality tied to Autopilot. So Musk’s resoluteness to keep Autopilot functional for customers makes sense, even as some skeptics point to Tesla’s desire to keep gathering data from customers’ cars as a kind of ominous incentive. And there will be no avoiding how Mr. Musk’s decision might play in today’s online atmosphere, where many express frustrations over Autopilot’s “beta” test state in an otherwise full-production vehicle, despite Tesla having made multiple disclosures as to its beta status and its limitations. Even so, as Reuters reports, NHTSA investigators are breathing down Tesla’s neck for answers, as they attempt to get a handle on Tesla’s beta-testing of semi-autonomous technology using its customers.

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