WASHINGTON -- Consumer Reports on Thursday urged Tesla Motors Inc. to disable the automatic steering function in its Autopilot driving-assist system, which is under investigation by U.S. safety regulators after a fatal crash.
The influential magazine, with 8 million subscribers, wants Tesla to disable the current system, require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel as part of an updated driver assist system and stop referring to the product as Autopilot.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the May 7 crash and death in Florida of a Model S driver who was using Autopilot.
Consumer Reports said the Autopilot name "promotes a potentially dangerous assumption that the Model S is capable of driving on its own."
"By marketing their feature as 'Autopilot,' Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security," said Laura MacCleery, vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for Consumer Reports.
"We're deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology. 'Autopilot' can't actually drive the car, yet it allows consumers to have their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time."
Consumer Reports also urged Tesla fully test safety systems before public deployment.
Tesla defended the system and its name.
"Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear. The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car," the company said Thursday.
"While we appreciate well-meaning advice from any individual or group, we make our decisions on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by media," it added.
Tesla, in a blog post in June about the crash, described Autopilot as being in a "public beta phase" and said customers have to opt in before activation. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on July 10 that "beta" means "any system (with) less than 1B miles of real world driving."
The magazine also urged NHTSA to step up oversight of cars with features like Autopilot. Under current regulations, NHTSA doesn't test or approve the systems.
Earlier this week, NHTSA said it wants records of how many times the system told drivers to put their hands on the wheel and how often that led to the car automatically reducing vehicle power.
Tesla said Tuesday its autosteer software, the steering function in Autopilot, was enabled during a Sunday crash involving a Model X in Montana. Tesla said data suggested "the driver's hands were not on the steering wheel."