Many consumers misunderstand how to use Tesla's Autopilot driver-assist technology, according to a survey released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The survey of more than 2,000 consumers found drivers also were confused by other driver-assist systems such as Nissan's ProPilot Assist, Cadillac's Super Cruise, advertised as "hands-free driving," and BMW's Driving Assistant Plus.
When asked about Autopilot, 48 percent of those surveyed thought it would be safe to take one's hands off the wheel while using the system. The technology had substantially more participants who thought it would be safe to look at scenery, read a book or use a cellphone. Six percent thought it would be safe to take a nap.
IIHS said in a statement that "the names manufacturers use for these systems can send the wrong messages to drivers regarding how attentive they should be."
"People are misinterpreting terms and assuming [driver-assist technology] can do more than it really can," said IIHS President David Harkey.
Designating technology as automated in its name — rather than a driver-assist feature — introduces new and unnecessary risks to drivers and passengers, Harkey said.
In March, a driver of a Tesla Model 3 died when the vehicle, using Autopilot, crashed into the side of a tractor-trailer in Florida. The Tesla vehicle did not detect the driver's hand on the wheel at the time of impact.
Autopilot "is not intended to be hands free," Harkey said. "Even though Tesla makes that very clear in the manual, that message is not being conveyed to all users."
NBC TV's Los Angeles affiliate on June 13 broadcast video of a man who appeared to be sleeping at the wheel of his Tesla for at least 30 miles on Interstate 405 in Orange County, Calif.
"I realized he was fully sleeping," Shawn Miladinovich, who took the video, told NBC4. "Eyes shut, hands nowhere near the steering wheel."