What The Hell Is Going On With The Biggest Tesla Fan Planning To Drive At A Kid With A Tesla?

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If you’ve been on Twitter the past few days, you may have noticed a peculiar thread being referenced and getting some attention. It’s notable because it’s one of those rare times on Twitter where a person puts out a public call for a child to run in front of a car so someone can “make a point.Huh, you may be thinking to yourself. That’s unusual.  Maybe you’re even thinking a very reasonable what the fuck is this? That’s a healthy reaction. I’m going to try and explain what is going on here, and I’ll go ahead and say right up front that, no, I don’t actually think anyone is going to get hurt, but at the same time everything about this is, well, idiotic. Let’s dig in, I guess.

Here’s the tweet that got all this started:

The thread continues, including this tweet that should make anyone with a spouse and child feel a nervous pang of pain in the pit of their stomach as they imagine this conversation:

After this tweet, we get one that explains what the hell is going on a bit more:

Okay, so for those of you not a member of the sexless sex-cult of hyper-intense Tesla and Elon Musk fandom, TESLAQ refers to people who are perceived as being vehemently anti-Tesla, and in this very specific case, TESLAQ is referring to Dan O’Dowd, who has started something called The Dawn Project, which has a stated goal of “Making Computers Safe for Humanity” and has undertaken a campaign against Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta software being deployed on public roads.

The Dawn Project recently released a video of tests they undertook that appear to show Teslas not detecting child-size mannequins and running into them:

I don’t have all of the details or parameters of the test, but we have seen emergency braking issues with Teslas before, but to be fair, it’s hardly just Teslas that have failed tests like these. Here’s a picture of a Honda knocking the crap out of a mannequin from a AAA test, for example:

Hondasmack

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t think there’s real problems with the way Tesla has been deploying their FSD Beta, because I definitely do. I also think Level 2 and Level 3 semi-automated systems from any manufacturer are inherently and conceptually flawed. At the same time, I think the Dawn Project’s portrayal of Tesla FSD-controlled cars as malevolent automatons that “will indiscriminately mow down children” is needlessly and counter-productively histrionic.

You know what else is needlessly and counter-productively histrionic? Whole Mars Catalog trying to make some misguided point by conducting an emergency stopping test with someone’s kid.

I think, of course, that Whole Mars Catalog – whose real name is Omar Qazi – is quite deliberately trying to get attention by tweeting things like this:

Again, I’m sure Omar’s goal is to not hurt anyone here. Based on tweets and my discussion with him, he’s planning on using a mannequin for a test, and for his test with the actual kid, the plan is to not have the kid actually walk out into the road, but walk toward the car but not leave the sidewalk:

Of course, this is still a shit idea. It’s deeply stupid, will prove almost nothing, and the only thing that it will really demonstrate is the remarkable depths an obsession can take people. And it’s not like anyone can guarantee the kid will be perfectly safe: it’s still a kid walking toward a moving car, which, yes, happens every day, but it’s never a zero-risk situation. Only in this particular case, it could be completely avoided.

I’m not a particularly safety-focused parent, if I’m honest. I routinely drive my kid in archaic cars with minimal safety equipment. I let my kid use knives and run around in gravel and jump off logs in forests and all that crap. But putting a kid in this sort of position to try to half-assedly make some point in service of a for-profit company that doesn’t have anything really to do with you? Fuck that.

Tesla is an unusual company regarding the level of loyalty it seems to inspire in its fans, which sometimes manifests itself in ill-considered, possibly dangerous stunts like this. Remember the jackass who used his wife to test Autopilot’s emergency braking a few years back? People who own Fords or Toyotas aren’t doing this, and while Tesla fans may point to this as a positive, it’s not. If the way you feel about a company is making you put your loved ones in the path of a moving car, something is fucked up, period.

I’ve interacted with Omar before. We once had a debate on YouTube. To Omar’s credit, he’s always been receptive to talking to me, even if we tend to disagree on, well, pretty much everything. I spoke with Omar about this, and as usual, he was willing to discuss it with me (my texts are in orange):

Convo1 Convo2

In the exchange, it sounds almost reasonable. And he admits that the framing of it is an attempt to grab attention and get the video to go viral, which is hardly a shock.

I’m fine with doing a test with a mannequin, on some sort of closed track. It’s good to do these tests, to try and see how the system reacts. That’s fine. But that’s not what’s happening here, it’s not why we’re talking about this at all.

Nothing that’s going to happen here is going to appreciably help anyone, on either side. One test isn’t going to prove shit, because there are so many variables involved here. The use of an actual kid is irresponsible and stupid and exploitative, and I hope Omar realizes that before he’s planning to do this test on Saturday.

It’s not private people’s responsibility to test semi-automated driving hardware on people’s children. Tesla needs to do these tests, and regulatory agencies need to be watching them. If you ever find yourself so emotionally invested in any carmaker to the degree where you actively are seeking to put a kid in even potential danger to prove some sort of point, then that means it’s time to step back and really evaluate what the hell has gone so awry in your life to bring you to this point.

This isn’t normal, or good or smart or useful or anything. Even the best outcome of this test will result in no minds changed.

The question of how to implement semi-automated driving in public roads is an open and ongoing issue, and showing once that a kid who almost walked in front of a car didn’t get run over proves nothing. Portraying semi-automated driving systems as bloodthirsty child-eaters doesn’t help anything either.

I know it’s a big ask, but this may be one of those times where the only thing to do is put emotions aside, stop hoping Elon will notice you and fall in love, stop injecting undue drama into the situation, and be a fucking adult.

It’s no fun that way. But it’s the only way to get through this idiocy.

And, to that dad considering doing this test, from another dad: if you want to give your kid a healthy bit of risk and controlled danger, take him to a go-kart track instead. Go have some actual fun, for you and your kid. Get some ice cream. Send me the bill and I’ll even Venmo you for the ice cream. Just don’t play into this idiotic game.

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84 Responses

  1. “The kid won’t get hurt. We’ll tell them to stop right before they get in the street.” Because kids are so predictable and never run into the street even when they are told not to get anywhere close to it. That is the dad in me talking…Get fucking real. Whoever signs up for this should be nailed for child endangerment. It will be easy as it will all be recorded for public view.

  2. I enjoyed this article immensely, but I think I enjoyed the photo of the mannequin getting destroyed even more. Something about the legs flying off tickled my funny bone!
    Yes I am going to hell, why do you ask?

    1. I realized once that no matter what I’d be in hell because either I’m in hell with the cool kids or in heaven with people I can’t stand.

      I’ll take the cool kids, laughing at exploding mannequins with the devil.

  3. The test will be performed at 5mph… so what the hell does that prove? Test it at a normal driving speed. Just maybe not with a child though. Use a child sized Atlas robot wearing, like, kids clothing. A Pokemon tshirt and a hat or whatever kids are wearing these days.

        1. ~Sigh~ I clicked on the “lol” emoji (whatever we’re calling these icons lately). I get “????”

          Guys. Please. You really need a better platform than that Trash-80, Commodore, or Casio wristwatch you’re running this site on…..

  4. First congratulations Jason because in you article you apparently allow your kid to learn and seem like a great dad. On the reverse I’m surprised no one attacked you for allowing your kid to go outside, use a knife, run on gravel. I assume the knife and running are in 2 separate uses?

  5. I really don’t understand what he’s trying to prove. My 6 year old Subaru and 7 year old Ford will stop if a child runs in front of them. None of this is ground breaking, Tesla is no more special with this tech than anyone else, they just market it better. FSD is just a more advanced version of what I have in my Outback. It’s not revolutionary or ground breaking. So I’m really perplexed as to what this guy is trying to prove.

  6. I do wonder when this video will go viral, as it will. Do these idiots not realize that some cops or child welfare agencies won’t see it? Don’t they think they could be charged with “child endangerment”?

    Also, I wonder how much this Tela guy paid the dad to put his kid on the line?

  7. Fucking insanity. as soon as this idiot gets in the car and starts driving towards his kid he needs to be arrested for child endangerment. the moron who owns the car and the moron piloting the drone to get a good shot of the kid getting run down too

  8. TSLAQ pre-dates Dan O’Dowd by quite a few years. It actually refers to short sellers who think tesla should be bankrupt. The Q symbol is added to the end of company’s stock ticker to indicate it was bankrupt or in bankruptcy proceedings.
    TSLAQ has morphed to being used by the cult to describe anyone who isn’t a rabid Elon dick sucker.

  9. Various laws specify several types of endangerment:

    Child endangerment and animal endangerment: placing a child or animal in a potentially harmful situation, either through negligence or misconduct.

    Reckless endangerment: A person commits the crime of reckless endangerment if the person recklessly engages in conduct which creates substantial jeopardy of severe corporeal trauma to another person. “Reckless” conduct is conduct that exhibits a culpable disregard of foreseeable consequences to others from the act or omission involved.

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