Tesla’s Auto Pilot Failure: Partly to Blame for Fatal Crash | Power Legal Group
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Tesla’s Auto Pilot Failure: Partly to Blame for Fatal Crash

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently revealed that Tesla’s autopilot system was to blame – in part — for a fatal crash involving a Model S collision with a lorry – a British term for a truck that transports goods. The finding was outlined on the BBC, which quoted federal investigators as claiming Tesla “lacked understanding” of the autopilot’s limitations.

The crash took place in May 2016, leading to the death of the 40-year-old Tesla driver, Joshua Brown. The truck driver who hit him was unharmed. Subsequently, the NTSB suggested that car manufacturers take the necessary precautions to make sure autopilot systems are not misrepresented or misused.

While the system worked as it was supposed to, it was only designed to carry out limited tasks in a particular set of circumstances. By allowing the driver to use the system outside of those limited environments, the NTSB says Tesla shares the blame for the fatal accident. That’s because the driver felt he had more leeway to use the system, causing the diversion of his attention while behind the wheel.

Shedding Light on Semi-Autonomous

Tesla’s autopilot system is one that is considered “semi-autonomous” – meaning it’s not quite full-on autopilot but somewhere in between. Self-driving cars (also referred to as autonomous vehicles or driverless cars) promise new levels of efficiency, leveling the playing field by taking driver fatigue and inattention out of the safety equation, says US News and World Report.

Such self-driving cars contain a veritable arsenal of safety sensors fueled by state of the art software able to interpret huge amounts of data in real time. But because there are currently quite a few barriers to adoption when it comes to fully automated self-driving cars on the market today, car manufacturers are making do for now with what they call semi-autonomous cars.

While several auto makers are promoting their semi-autonomous cars as the next generation in safety when it comes to combating driver distraction and fatigue, the fact still remains that drivers are supposed to remain engaged with the driving process at all times, points out Consumer Reports. However, many companies, Tesla included, are using autopilot terms to describe what can only realistically be defined as semi-autonomous at this juncture. In turn, this is giving the public a false sense of safety and security while at the wheel. Many drivers, as a result, are disengaging themselves from the equation, putting themselves and others at risk.

Yes, many of these systems allow you to take your hands off the wheel. However, there is no substitute for driver engagement – at least until fully autonomous cars safely make it onto the market in the future.

Back to the NTSB report…it was found that during 37 minutes of drive time, the victim of the crash, Mr. Brown, had his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds. There is some question as to what Mr. Brown was doing for that period of time, with some accounts claiming he was watching a movie.

The investigation found that both drivers had enough sight distance to give either one of them a chance to prevent the crash. Neither driver was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident. No definitive reason has been found – as of yet – for Mr. Brown’s inattention.

A Focus on Safety

Regardless of the claims, the NTSB says someone died as the result of a poorly-communicated technology. Thus, it reiterates its recommendation that car manufacturers add safeguards to prevent automated vehicle control systems from being used for conditions they weren’t intended for.

Tesla’s response spoke to putting the safety of its customers first, but it stands by its claim that its autopilot system significantly increases safety by reducing accident rates by 40 percent. Tesla did agree to review the NTSB findings and incorporate those results into its evolving technology.

In addition, it vowed to be clearer with its future customers that the autopilot function is not meant to be a fully self-driving technology, with the need for drivers to stay attentive at all times when behind the wheel.

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