Tesla Rebuffs Consumer Reports' Critique of AutoPilot Features in Wake of Accidents

PHOTO: A Tesla Model S is on display on the first press day of the Frankfurt Auto Show IAA in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 15, 2015.Michael Probst/AP Photo
A Tesla Model S is on display on the first press day of the Frankfurt Auto Show IAA in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 15, 2015.

Tesla is doubling down on its semi-automated driving technology, rebuffing criticism from Consumer Reports that the car maker is misleading consumers over its "AutoPilot” feature.

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“While we appreciate well-meaning advice from any individual or group, we make our decision on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by the media," a spokesman for the company said today.

AutoPilot -- a suite of features on some of Tesla’s Model S cars -- includes systems to automatically maintain lane control and speed, automatically change lanes, avoid collisions, and even park the car. It has garnered attention recently due to a May 7 crash in Florida in which a motorist was killed while the system was activated.

PHOTO: A Tesla Model S involved in a fatal crash on May 7, 2016 is shown with the top third of the car sheared off by the impact of the collision in Williston, Florida, May 7, 2016. Robert VanKavelaar via Reuters
A Tesla Model S involved in a fatal crash on May 7, 2016 is shown with the top third of the car sheared off by the impact of the collision in Williston, Florida, May 7, 2016.

In a lengthy article published today, Consumer Reports said that the system “increases the possibility that drivers using AutoPilot may not be engaged enough to react quickly to emergency situations.” It also said that Tesla’s marketing strategy around it creates “potential for driver confusion” and has been “uniquely aggressive in its deployment,” when compared to other car manufactures releasing similar technology.

Tesla’s website notes that “Drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel,” for the vehicle to steer itself. But Consumer Reports says that Tesla “is the only manufacturer that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel for significant periods of time.”

Among other demands, the consumer advocacy group called on Tesla to rename AutoPilot “as it is misleading and potentially dangerous," and to disable the system’s automatic steering system until it could be “reprogrammed to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel."

PHOTO: The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, April 7, 2016. Alexandria Sage/Reuters
The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, April 7, 2016.

In an email to ABC News today, a Tesla spokesperson -- speaking on the condition of anonymity -- hit back, saying, “Tesla is constantly introducing enhancements proven over millions of miles of internal testing to ensure that drivers supported by Autopilot remain safer than those operating without assistance,” and vowed that the company would “continue to develop, validate, and release those enhancements as the technology grows."

The spokesperson also pointed to a statement the company released in June, which noted that “the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.”

The crash in early May in Williston, Florida, resulted in the death of Joshua Brown of Canton, Ohio, according to authorities. AutoPilot was active at the time of the crash and failed to distinguish between the broadside of a tractor-trailer and the bright sky, officials said.

PHOTO: This still image taken from a video published on YouTube on Oct. 15, 2015, shows Joshua Brown of Canton, Ohio, in the drivers seat of his Tesla Model S while he demonstrates the cars self-driving mode. YouTube via AP
This still image taken from a video published on YouTube on Oct. 15, 2015, shows Joshua Brown of Canton, Ohio, in the driver's seat of his Tesla Model S while he demonstrates the car's self-driving mode.

Since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety administration has requested information from Tesla about the AutoPilot systems that were in use at the time of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board has also opened a probe into the crash, USA Today reported. And the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened its own investigation into whether the manufacturer violated securities laws by not disclosing the crash in filings shortly afterward.

Tesla did not immediately respond to ABC News request for comment on the investigations.