Tesla owner who crashed on Autopilot has a warning for other drivers

Tesla owner warns drivers of Autopilot technology
Tesla owner warns drivers of Autopilot technology

A Texas man who recently crashed his Tesla Model S is warning other drivers the company's Autopilot technology is "not ready."

Mark Molthan said he bears the company no ill will, after emerging from a crash with a bloody nose, a concussion, and other injuries. In fact, he thinks the car's safety features may have saved his life. "I didn't miss a day of work," Molthan told CNBC in an interview. "If I was in my pickup truck, I might have been dead."

But Molthan, who has owned three Teslas — two Model S cars and a Model X — said he cannot see himself buying another Tesla until the company does more to address the safety issues around its driver assistance technology. He thinks the company has been rushing to bring new features or products to market without taking enough time to research them.

"It's amazing technology, to be honest with you," he told CNBC. "But Tesla shouldn't make their customers test pilots. They are first-to-market with this technology, and it is not good enough for what they are allowing it to do," he said.

Although a Tesla representative was not available on Monday to comment on Molthan's remarks, the company told CNBC on Friday that it is still investigating the incident.

Tesla has defended the feature, saying in a blog post that when "used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving."

Tesla has said that the feature is in "beta" mode, but Molthan told CNBC that the marketing of the product, and its performance over time, suggested it really was capable of driving itself most of the time, and that it improves with use.

Molthan said the system performs well in many situations, and instills a kind of illusory confidence in the driver over time.

"The technology is good enough to give you a bad and false sense of security that it is always working," he said. "It actually drives the car, and it does a good job, until it doesn't," he said.

Molthan calls himself an early adopter of technology products, and of Tesla products in particular. He started using Autopilot as it was released and became what he considers a heavy user.

He said the driver assistance system was great for managing the stress of stop-and-go traffic, and it worked well at low speeds, and on straight roads.

In the beginning, he kept his hands on the wheel and was a bit worried something would happen. But after awhile, the system seemed to be predictable. After using it on the same routes several times, he began to feel he knew the places where the car "gets confused," as said in an interview with CNBC.

Molthan is a property developer, and he drove his car the same route to a job site at least 10 times on Autopilot, and on the day of the crash, the system had been engaged for at least 30 to 40 minutes.

The car came to a slight bend in the road and veered out of the lane on Highway 175, in Kaufman, Texas, a rural area outside Dallas. It struck a guardrail at least three times.

Molthan carefully pointed out that his eyes were not on the road when the crash occurred. He reached over to pet his dog, and then buff some fingerprints and dust off the computer screen on the dashboard. When he looked up, it was too late to react.

But he never had a problem before at the curve in the highway where the Tesla finally crashed, he said.

The system "allows you to think it's working. And at a higher speed, you can't react. It's already hard enough to react when you are focused, that when you are not, and it errs, it's over."

For now, the experience has made him wish that there is another option for a really good high-end electric car.

"It's awesome," he said. "I get up in the morning and I never have to go to the gas station. I don't drive more than 150 miles a day, but I drive everyday."

And, he adds, the Tesla cars are really nice, and there is not anything out there.

Molthan said he has no plans to sue Tesla. "I am not here to gain anything, I just don't want it to happen to anyone else because more people are going to get hurt."