You are here
Home > FEMA news > Autopilot still kills motorcyclists

Autopilot still kills motorcyclists

Euro NCAP stars do not protect motorcyclists. FEMA considers this an unacceptable situation and sent a letter to Euro NCAP to alert them to this unsafe situation, caused by their own testing methods. Euro NCAP denies their tests are inadequate.

In September 2022, Euro NCAP, a voluntary vehicle safety rating system, rated the Tesla model Y with 5 stars . This is not unusual for a modern car. These five stars are partially based on a very high rating for ‘Safety Assist’, 98%, which is almost as high as you can get. We consider this very high rating remarkable at least.

Since Tesla cars hit the roads with their ‘Autopilot’ system, there are reports of remarkable and unexplainable accidents with Tesla cars that can be linked to the driver assist systems. Even this year, in July 2022, two motorcyclists were killed in the USA in crashes that were caused with, or should we say ‘by’, Tesla cars. In both situations, the motorcycles, riding in the dark, were not recognized by the Tesla safety assist systems and by the drivers who seemed to rely too much on the safety systems in their Tesla (watch the video below this article for a full explanation).

For years now, experts point out that the Tesla assist systems have one big shortage. They are entirely based on camera sensors. All other car manufacturers use a combination of camera and radar or lidar, but Elon Musk has always made clear that in his view camera sensors are enough. Even when many Teslas crashed in the past six years due to failing safety systems, Musk sees no need to change that. The issue with cameras is that – contrary to radar and lidar – they have only a limited capacity to estimate distance. In the case of the two killed motorcyclists mentioned above, they rode on cruiser-type motorcycles with very low taillights. Since the cameras could only detect the taillights and not the rest of the motorcycle and the riders themselves, the safety system estimated their distance wrong, which caused the crashes. In other situations, Tesla safety systems did not recognize emergency vehicles that were parked on the border of a motorway, a motorcycle policeman, waiting for a traffic light, etcetera. The point is: the Tesla safety assist systems have proven themselves to be inadequate and unreliable.

Now back to the Euro NCAP star rating. The safety systems of the cars are tested in several situations. Mostly with cars, but some tests are also performed with dummy cyclists and pedestrians. A few tests are performed in the dark. No tests are performed with motorcyclists yet. The AEB tests were performed with cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. The tested Tesla model Y that got the five-star rating in September 2022 had only camera sensors, which worked well under these circumstances. It was tested in two situations with pedestrians in the dark, and that worked well too.

But the crashes in July 2022 show that the Tesla camera sensor has problems with recognizing motorcyclists (and possibly also cyclists) in the dark, because it seems to confuse them with further ahead driving cars. Euro NCAP does not test this common situation where a car nears a motorcycle from behind. What you do not test cannot fail, and this way the Tesla model Y gets 5 stars awarded, but that does not make it a safe car, although the buyer may believe otherwise.

From the beginning of the arrival of cars with safety systems we have lobbied for the inclusion of motorcyclists in the tests. This started in 2016 with the crash of a Tesla car with a young motorcyclist in Norway. Slowly we are getting somewhere, but this high rating of the Tesla model Y shows that we are not there yet. We sent a letter to EuroNCAP to alert them to this unsafe situation, caused by their own testing methods. We also told them that we consider this an unacceptable situation.

In reply to FEMA’s letter, we received this disturbing answer: Euro NCAP is continuing to improve protocols and has invested a lot time and efforts to develop test procedures including PTW (powered two-wheelers, ed.). These will become part of the rating next year. Euro NCAP already is far beyond what is legally required, but with this update will push the vehicle manufacturers even more to improve their systems. Tesla has performed very well in the tests we currently conduct and deserves credit for it, not questioned. Is it optimized to the test? Maybe, but so are others.”

Written by Dolf Willigers

Top photograph courtesy of

This article is subject to FEMA’s copyright