Why do Tesla fans put their kids in the path of moving cars? | Arwa Mahdawi

meI have been a mother for a relatively short time; I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to this whole parenting thing. Still, there’s one piece of advice I can confidently give: don’t tell your child to run in front of a moving vehicle so he can win an argument with strangers online. Elon Musk obsessives, I’m looking at you.

This month, a software CEO called Dan O’Dowdwhich is hell-bent on trying to ban Tesla’s “full self-driving” program, launched an ad campaign claiming that if you put a Tesla in this mode, cut the kids. He based this claim on a test he performed on a child-sized mannequin dressed in a safety vest, which became sticky in the middle of a California highway.

Musk fans, who will not tolerate any criticism of the billionaire, immediately took issue with O’Dowd’s claims and decided to run their own tests, using a real child.

“Is there anyone in the Bay Area with a child who can run in front of my car in the full self-driving beta to prove something? I promise I won’t run them over…” tweeted Omar Qazi, a Tesla shareholder and prominent Musk fan, adding: “(This is a serious request.)” Rather than speak some common sense to the guy, his followers enthusiastically engaged; a day after his initial tweet, Qazi announced that he had found a volunteer. “They just have to convince his wife,” he added.

The volunteer appears to have been a Tesla investor named Tad Park, who proceeded to drive a Model 3 Tesla at 8 mph towards one of his sons. The car, which was in self-driving mode, slowed down and did not hit his son. Hurrah! Park filmed the whole thing and uploaded it to YouTube. It has since been removed because, as a YouTube spokesperson told CNBC last week, the social platform “does not allow content that depicts a minor engaging in dangerous activity or encouraging minors to engage in dangerous activity.” Taking on the role of a crash test dummy because his father wants to “make a point” falls into the “dangerous activities” category.

Park, I’m sorry to say, wasn’t the only parent who decided it was a good idea to force his son into amateur vehicle testing to align himself with Tesla’s critics. A guy named Carmine Cupani reportedly had his 11-year-old son get in the way of his Tesla while it was traveling at 35 mph in “full self-driving” mode in a parking lot. Demonstrating his commitment to the scientific process, Cupani then did another test, on a highway, using his son as a target. For this one, he used Autopilot, which is Tesla’s least sophisticated driver assistance software. His son survived both tests and now has lots of funny stories to tell his friends about the time dad risked aggravated vehicular manslaughter to prove his loyalty to a car company.

While Park and Cupani’s children emerged unscathed from their parents’ experiments, both men displayed appallingly poor judgment. But they are not the real problem here. The real problem is that Musk, a man addicted to over-promising, and Tesla have dangerously overstated the capabilities of self-driving technology.

It is incredibly misleading to describe a driver assistance feature that requires an attentive human driver at all times to function safely as “fully autonomous driving” technology. This is not simply my opinion; The California Department of Motor Vehicles filed a complaint this month with the state, saying Tesla’s descriptions of its Autopilot and “full autonomous driving” features were “misleading.”

Now, before you rabid Musk fans start trolling me for pointing out the obvious, let me just say: this is not a hit piece. It’s a “please don’t risk hitting kids with your car because you’re weirdly obsessed with Elon Musk” piece.

Arwa Mahdawi is a columnist for The Guardian

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