Is Tesla’s Autopilot tested with motorcycles?

two motorcyclists on a road

Published on 23 February 2017 by Robert Drane

After a rider was injured in an incident involving Tesla’s Autopilot, FEMA and the Norwegian Motorcyclists’ Union question the testing of automated vehicles.


Tesla’s Autopilot is one of the first automated driving technologies available to consumers. By using a variety of sensors, it can park, change lanes and adapt its cruise control to traffic conditions.

This summer in Norway, one of these cars hit the motorcycle of a young, female rider from behind. She was severely injured. The Autopilot was in the ON position.

FEMA member the Norwegian Motorcyclists’ Union (NMCU) has written to the founder of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, with one simple question: “Is the Tesla Autopilot properly tested with motorcycles?”

Since then, FEMA and the two Dutch organisations MAG NL and KNMV have written to RDW, the Dutch organisation which type-approved the Tesla, thereby approving it for the whole of the EU. RDW have been asked precisely what testing of the AutoPilot2 system they actually did, if any.


Testing shortcuts

In April, the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) highlighted the risks of insufficient testing in a report on automated vehicles. It said: “There is an urgent need to put in place certain prerequisites prior to the wider deployment of automated vehicles in Europe”. The report even suggested “a comprehensive equivalent to a driving test” for new technologies.

In the UK, there are currently no regulations for testing automated vehicles, despite the government’s desire for the UK to become world-leaders in the technology. Instead, researchers are suggested to follow a code of practice which doesn’t include any specific requirements relating to motorcyclists.

Dolf Willigers, FEMA’s General Secretary, said: “It cannot be that motorcyclists have to fear for their life because car manufacturers skip (part of) the testing phase in an attempt to outrun their competitors, or that our children cannot cycle to school anymore because unreliable car driver assist systems are allowed on public roads for political reasons. We really have to stop this.”

Anna Zee, the BMF’s Political and Technical Services Director and President of FEMA, explained that there is currently no evidence that every vehicle detection system is being tested for scenarios involving motorbikes. “So far, all too often the question ‘Have you tested this with motorcycles?’ results in the answer ‘no’. In the future, type approval is going to have to include tests on both the hardware and software used in autonomous and highly automated vehicles. That will not be easy, but systems that could kill must not be allowed on our roads.”


Misleading and over-sold

In its letter to Elon Musk, the NMCU also expressed concern that “manufacturers and politicians are over-selling present technology.” In fact, in October, Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) called for Tesla to drop the Autopilot name because it found the term misleading. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has done similar.

Tesla’s Autopilot has been further criticised in research carried out by the German Federal Highway Research Institute. Der Spiegel reported that, among other issues, the technology does not alert the driver when the computer is in a situation that it does not understand.

Research cited in the NMCU’s letter demonstrates the consequences of drivers putting too much reliance into these technologies. “As drivers become comfortable with, and rely more on Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), they may become less attentive to the driving task. So, an unintended consequence of broad ADAS implementation may be an increase in the frequency of car-motorcycle accidents even as car-car accidents decrease.”

You can follow this story on the FEMA website, and we will make sure it is flagged on the BMF website if an answer is received.