Autopilot – Hands on the Wheel

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; however, in practice, it is the human driver with hands on the wheel that is required for safety.

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 the vehicle’s sensor system failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheeler tractor-trailer crossing the highway. The Tesla Model S uses the road lane lines to automatically steer the vehicle and adjust its speed while the vehicle’s cameras and radar technology to 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.

The Department of Transportation and the National Highway 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 (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. However, there is an inherent conflict of interest. Currently, manufacturers design the safety systems while the same manufacturers are eager to make millions from consumer purchases at the most affordable costs.

An example of this self-regulation, Tesla sent an update to its Autopilot software on the weekend of July10th-11th, 2018. The update will notify Tesla drivers more frequently to keep their hands on the wheel when the Autopilot feature is engaged. Tesla acknowledges that vehicles have been involved in fatal crashes during which Autopilot was engaged but the drivers were not holding the steering wheel in the moments before impact. A fatal crash earlier this year prompted the NTSB to open a probe. A preliminary report released last week revealed that the driver’s hands were off the steering wheel for six seconds before his Model X collided with a highway barrier. It seems that Tesla’s Autopilot does not replace the human driver as its name suggests.

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