Screenshot of The Dawn Project's PSA campaign.
On Tuesday, safety advocacy and research organization The Dawn Project launched a PSA campaign showcasing a Tesla in Full Self-Driving (FSD) mode repeatedly mowing down a child-sized mannequin, and Tesla fans are fuming.
The video documents a safety test conducted in California on an empty car track lane that was intended to simulate a small child walking across the road in a crosswalk, according to The Dawn Project. It shows a professional test driver bringing a Tesla to 40 mph and then putting it in full self-driving mode once entering a lane of cones, within one hundred yards of the mannequin. As it approaches the mannequin, the car slows down to around 26 mph but does not stop and completely plows through the figure three separate times.
The video is now being attacked by fans of Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk, who are calling the test fake and uploading videos attempting to debunk the test. One popular Musk fan account on Twitter, besides posting videos of a Tesla with FSD engaged driving along, even sought an actual child to test Tesla FSD's stopping ability on. “[Tesla] fanboys are out there screaming bloody murder this morning. ‘Fake, fake, it's terrible. It's awful. These guys just made this up. It would never do that.’” Dawn Project founder and US Senate candidate Dan O’ Dowd told Motherboard. “And some of them are really funny. They say, ‘Oh, you could tell the difference between a real child and a fake child because it could tell their heart rate, or their blood pressure, or their body temperatures. The thing can't see a child, it doesn't know body temperature.” Twitter user and prominent Elon Musk supporter Omar Qazi, who runs the blog Whole Mars Catalog, even asked his followers: “Is there anyone in the Bay Area with a child who can run in front of my car on Full Self-Driving Beta to make a point? I promise I won't run them over... (will disengage if needed) (this is a serious request).” He later followed it up with: “Okay someone volunteered… they just have to convince their wife” as well as listed a series of guidelines for his test, including “Driver will be father of child.” Finally, on Thursday, Qazi tweeted: “We plan to run over the child on Saturday. Mom is on board as we explained how safe it will be.” He added that the child will only run toward the road, and he plans to be “run over” first.
Qazi did not respond to a request for comment. "That is a devotion to Tesla that is amazing," O'Dowd said of Qazi's plan to put a child in the path of a moving car. "He’s defending the indefensible with indefensible."
O’Dowd, an outspoken critic of Tesla despite owning several of the company's vehicles, has made it his organization's main priority to tell Congress to shut down Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software. It's also the chief focus of his run for the Senate. He thinks it is incomprehensible that Tesla would call the software “amazing,” and allow over 100,000 Tesla vehicles to have it when it is a “demonstrable danger to human life,” as The Dawn Project's test report puts it. Tesla’s Autopilot mode, which is less capable than Full Self-Driving, has already been under fire from regulators. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating Tesla’s Autopilot system since August 2021, after an increasing number of crashes with Autopilot turned on were reported. The investigation covers over 800,000 cars, including 2014-2022 Tesla Model Y, Model X, Model S, and Model 3. Between July 2021 and May of this year, Teslas accounted for 273 of nearly 400 of the crashes involving driver-assist systems, according to the NHTSA. Despite being marketed as Full Self-Driving, the mode does "not make the vehicle autonomous," according to Tesla, and the driver must have their hands on the wheel at all times.
On Wednesday, former presidential candidate and consumer protection activist Ralph Nader issued a statement calling on the NHTSA to recall the FSD technology in every Tesla. “Tesla’s major deployment of so-called Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades," he wrote. "I am calling on federal regulators to act immediately to prevent the growing deaths and injuries from Tesla manslaughtering crashes with this technology.” These criticisms come as Tesla prepares to roll out a new version of the software on August 20, which founder Elon Musk calls “Beta 10.69.” “If you are designing the process for developing a self-driving car, would you put in the software for not running over children in crosswalks before or after you beta tested it to 100,000 people?” O’ Dowd said. O’ Dowd and The Dawn Project are currently focused on Tesla because it is currently the most widely used advanced-driver-assistance-system (ADAS) equipped car on the roads, but other ADAS-equipped vehicles are encountering a host of their own issues. Earlier this year, an autonomous test car piloted by Apple nearly crashed into a jogger crossing the street, according to The Information. An autonomous truck built by TuSimple veered across a highway in Arizona and slammed into a concrete barricade in April. It was later disclosed in a regulatory report and company documents that the crash was not caused by human error, but “fundamental problems with the company’s technology,” as reported by the Wall Street Journal.