An advocacy group called “The Dawn Project” aired an ad challenging the safety of Tesla’s Full Self Driving feature during the Super Bowl. The ad is a good example of dishonest fearmongering.
Before I analyze the ad, let me clarify two things.
First, this ad appeared, not nationally, but in local markets like Washington, DC and Atlanta. (Local stations get a proportion of all network TV advertising, which is why you saw ads for car dealers and roofers along with the expensive beer and carmaker ads in last night’s Super Bowl). Local Super Bowl ads don’t cost nearly as much as the $7 million per spot that national advertisers pay.
And second, I agree with the premise of this ad. I am a Tesla owner. I don’t trust Tesla’s autopilot, which is the limited, default driving system you get if you don’t pay extra. I didn’t pay the $15,000 extra for Tesla’s “Full Self Driving (FSD)” feature, but from everything I’ve seen and read, it is flawed enough and makes enough mistakes that I would never trust it. Tesla’s sensors miss things and Tesla’s AI makes mistakes — and in a moving vehicle, mistakes are dangerous.
But the issue of the fairness of The Dawn Project’s ad is independent on where you stand on the safety of Tesla FSD.
What’s wrong with the ad
Here’s the 30-second spot.
Shocking stuff. Clearly, Tesla Full Self Driving isn’t perfect. But I have questions.
First, how many times did the people filming this ad set up these situations, and how many different settings did they need to try, to film the Tesla doing these shocking things?
Did it fail every try, once every 10 tries, once every 100 tries, or once every 1,000 tries? That makes a difference. A human driver might miss these things once every 1,000 tries, but wouldn’t fail on every try. Is FSD better than a human?
And second, when the ad says “90% agree” that FSD is endangering the public and should should be banned immediately, 90% of whom? 90% of the Dawn Project’s contributors? 90% of people shown this ad? 90% of a random sample of people pulled off the street? (Unlikely.) The 90% figure is meaningless unless we know the sample and how the question was asked.
This ad is dishonest.
Full Self Driving is a beta test happening with all the drivers on the road
Yes, NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) should regulate FSD. It should do more tests and report data we can trust.
But if the only way you can challenge lies is to be deceptive yourself, nobody benefits.
Let’s test Tesla. But there’s no need to get down in the mud yourself to do that.