Tesla Model 3
YouTube has removed a pair of videos from its platform that showed Tesla drivers performing amateur vehicle safety tests using their own children instead of mannequins in the road or driveway.
The tests were to determine whether a slow-moving Tesla equipped with the company’s latest driver assistance systems would automatically avoid colliding with pedestrians – in this case children – walking or standing still in the road.
After CNBC reached out, a YouTube spokesperson, Elena Hernandez, wrote in an email Friday night:
“YouTube does not allow content that shows a minor participating in dangerous activities or encouraging minors to do dangerous activities. After review, we determined that the videos submitted to us by CNBC violated our Harmful and Dangerous Guidelines and as a result removed we the content.”[ads1];
The specific guidelines that YouTube cited apply to harmful and dangerous content. The company removes videos that encourage dangerous or illegal activities that risk serious physical harm or death when it becomes aware of them. The spokesperson said: “Specifically, we do not allow content that shows or encourages minors in harmful situations that could lead to harm, including dangerous stunts, stunts or pranks.”
Tesla markets its driver assistance systems in the US as a standard package called Autopilot and a premium option called Full Self-Driving (or FSD) that costs $12,000 up front or $199 per month. It also gives some drivers access to an experimental program called Full Self-Driving Beta if they achieve a high score on the company’s in-vehicle safety tests.
None of these systems make Tesla cars self-driving, nor safe to use without a driver behind the wheel, aware of the road and able to steer, brake or accelerate at short notice. Tesla’s user manuals warn drivers that the systems do not make their cars autonomous.
Driver: “I was prepared to take over at any moment”
In a video posted Sunday, Aug. 14, Tesla owner and investor in the Elon Musk-led company, Tad Park, drove a Model 3 vehicle at eight miles per hour toward one of his children on a road in San Francisco Bay Area.
The video had tens of thousands of views before YouTube, a division of Alphabet’s Google, removed it. Alphabet also owns Waymo, the autonomous vehicle technology developer and robotaxi operator.
Park is CEO of Volt Equity, and portfolio manager of an ETF focused on autonomous driving technology called VCAR. “I’ve experienced the product myself, and believe in my investments,” Park told CNBC. “We took extensive safety measures so that children were never in danger.”
In a follow-up email, Park wrote, “First we tried a mannequin, then we tried a tall basketball player, then finally one child stood and my other child crossed the street.”
He said the car never went more than eight miles an hour, explaining: “We made sure the car recognized the kid. Even though the system failed completely, I was prepared to take over at any time. I had a sense of when I had to brake if the car did not slow down enough.”
Park conducted the tests in part as a rebuttal to a national advertising campaign by the founder of the software company Dan O’Dowd criticizes Tesla’s driver assistance features.
The video, which has now been removed, was posted on a YouTube channel called Whole Mars Catalog, which is run by Omar Qazi, a shareholder and major promoter of Tesla on social networks. Tesla CEO Elon Musk frequently interacts with the blog and Qazi on Twitter.
In addition to YouTube, CNBC reached out to the California DMV and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ask whether such videos are safe or legal.
NHTSA said on August 16: “NHTSA advises the public that trying to test vehicle technologies on your own can be very dangerous for anyone. No one should risk their life, or the life of anyone else, to test the performance of their vehicle technology.”
The agency also noted, “As NHTSA has consistently stated, no vehicle available for purchase today is capable of driving itself. The most advanced vehicle technologies available for purchase today provide driver assistance and require a fully attentive human driver at all times which perform the driving task and monitor the surrounding environment.”
The California DMV told CNBC via email: “As advanced vehicle technologies become more available, the DMV shares the same concerns as other traffic safety stakeholders about the potential for driver misunderstanding or misuse of these features. The DMV has previously indicated to Tesla and continues to emphasize the importance of providing clear and effective communication to customers, purchasers and the general public about the capabilities, limitations and intended uses of any vehicle technology.”
The California DMV recently alleged that Tesla is engaging in deceptive marketing or false advertising regarding its driver assistance systems. It is also in the middle of a long safety-related review of Tesla’s technology including FSD Beta.
The police in the city where Park conducted the test drive did not respond in time for publication. Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment.