Self-Driving Cars and Their Human Guinea Pigs

By Robert E. Ammons

Over 30,000 deaths occur from automobile accidents each year in the United States. Self-driving cars have the potential to reduce this number by eliminating human driver error behind the wheel. There will be moral issues that manufacturers will have to consider when designing the safety systems in these vehicles. For example, should the vehicle should swerve right to avoid a pedestrian in the roadway, risking the passenger’s life by crashing into a barricade, or should the vehicle continue straight and only protect the passenger inside? One thing is for certain, however, and that is that the public should never be guinea pigs for testing these vehicles.

Last July, Tesla driver, Joshua Brown was killed in the first known fatal crash while riding in the self-driving, Tesla Model S. At the time of the incident, Brown was watching a Harry Potter movie while the vehicle was in autopilot mode, when suddenly, the vehicle’s sensor system failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheeler tractor-trailer crossing the highway. The Tesla Model S, like many of these vehicles, uses the road lane lines to automatically steer the vehicle and adjust its speed, while the vehicle’s cameras and radar technology avoid traffic. Tesla’s response was that the Model S attempted to drive full speed under the truck trailer impacting the windshield, and it continued 100 feet off the road colliding with a utility pole killing Brown upon impact. Unfortunately, Brown’s death will not be the last.

The Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating these vehicles and updating their guidelines, which are currently not mandatory. The guidelines advise manufacturers to classify their vehicle’s levels of Automation 3-5 – (Conditional, High, and Full Automation); revise unnecessary design elements from the safety self-assessment; align with Federal Guidance with the latest developments and industry terminology; and encourage States to allow the DOT to regulate the safety design and performance of these vehicles. There is a conflict of interest. Currently, manufacturers design the safety systems until the DOT enacts stricter regulations, even though the same manufacturers are eager to make millions from consumer purchases at the most affordable costs.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a self-driving car where the vehicle systems failed to properly function or protect you, you may have a potential claim for damages against the manufacturer. The Ammons Law Firm and its team have the legal resources and experience to assist you. Call (281) 801-5617.