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What are the issues raised by a recent Tesla automobile accident?

Recently, news feeds and social media sites like Facebook filled up with articles about a fatal automobile accident involving a Tesla vehicle that operated on autopilot.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating the crash, which involved a man who set his Tesla vehicle in a self-driving mode while traveling in Florida. This allowed the vehicle to pilot itself, making decisions about when to turn, change lanes, brake, and perform other maneuvers on the road. The vehicle wound up colliding with a tractor-trailer, and the Tesla driver died.

Technological developments have introduced us to self-driving cars, which are currently getting tested around the US. The recent fatal crash raises some important issues we need to consider going forward, including the following:

Limitations of technology. Human error is a major contributing cause to vehicular accidents. Sophisticated safety features and automated systems in cars can actually help bring down the rate of accidents on the road. However, along with the promise of new technology, we have to understand its vulnerabilities. For example, the Tesla crash may have resulted from a sensor that failed to detect the side of the tractor-trailer, which had a white color. Sensor technology will continue undergoing refinement. But it’s important to keep the limitations of the technology in mind during each step of its development.

Human responsibility. When cars behave in a more autonomous fashion, relying on a greater number of automated systems, are drivers absolved of responsibility for a crash? The reality is that drivers still carry responsibility for their driving. They need to remain attentive to what’s going on with the vehicle and be prepared to override it. Unfortunately, drivers may feel complacent while operating a self-driving car. They may allow themselves to become completely distracted by other activities. Instead of using the car as a supplement to their driving, they may let it take complete control and fail to exercise oversight. Is this feeling of complacency inevitable when operating such a vehicle?

Extent of company liability. Following this recent fatal crash, Tesla stated that they’ve repeatedly reminded drivers to remain alert behind the wheel and not to assume that the autopilot system allows for a hands-free approach. They state that they’ve made it clear that drivers should be ready to step in and take control at a moment’s notice. After a crash, it’s important to evaluate a company’s claims, and whether they’ve sufficiently educated drivers about their product, warned them about the risks, and designed their vehicles to give drivers enough time to override the automated system. Furthermore, more than one company may share in the responsibility for an accident. For example, the company that manufactures the vehicle’s sensors may also be held liable.

Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts about these issues on our Facebook page. Following us on our blog or on Facebook will keep you informed about important questions concerning vehicular accidents. If you’re involved in an accident, please reach out to us at 844-Take-MyCase or www.844TakeMyCase.com.

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