NHTSA Data Raises Safety Concerns for Tesla and Other Autonomous Vehicles
Advanced automated vehicle technologies hold out the promise of increasing driver and roadway safety by helping limit driver error. Commonly known driver-assist technologies such as automatic braking, backup cameras, and lane or blind spot warning systems are already used in vehicles driven by people in Atlanta, Savannah, and throughout Georgia.
Even though those technologies are relatively new, and concerns have been raised about their reliability, more extensive automated technologies aiming to transfer driving to the vehicle’s autopilot system, such as the Tesla Autopilot system, are being advanced by manufacturers. However, many experts and consumers wonder if these autonomous vehicles are safe. To examine that question, the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHSTA) recently published new data shedding light on the numbers of crashes, fatalities, and injuries occurring in car accidents with autonomous vehicles. Reports on this early data suggest autonomous vehicles like Tesla’s may not be as safe as previously thought.
How safe are advanced driver assist technologies in cars?
The NHTSA promotes common driver assist technologies based on their potential to increase road safety. However, after a study of the most advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) manufacturers offered in five different 2019 and 2020 vehicles, the American Automobile Association (AAA) found the systems experienced issues every eight miles on average. AAA observed that the safety benefits of such systems . . . aren’t reliable.” Noting the technology was still relatively new, AAA stated, “Manufacturers need to work toward more dependable technology.” AAA concluded that drivers using the tested systems should always “remain attentive.”
Why did NHSTA require data reporting on accidents in autonomous vehicles?
In June 2021, NHSTA issued a Standing General Order requiring automakers and operators to report crashes and accidents with vehicles using certain automated systems. The New York Times reported the order “was prompted partly by crashes and fatalities over the last six years that involved Teslas operating in Autopilot.”
According to The Washington Post, Teslas have “been found to shut off the advanced driver-assistance system, Autopilot, around one second before impact.” Autopilot technology was also being tested on public roads, and questions about Tesla and other autonomous vehicles were increasingly being investigated. The first set of NHTSA required data was released on June 15, 2022, and supplied information about vehicles using automated systems at least 30 seconds before a crash. The agency explained it was collecting “data on advanced vehicle technologies and exploring other opportunities to support safe innovation as part of NHTSA’s core responsibility to ensure vehicle safety.”
What did the NHSTA data show about the safety of autonomous vehicles?
The NHSTA data showed 392 accidents, crash incidents from July 2021 through May 15, 2022, during which six people died and five were seriously injured. The New York Times also reported that Teslas using components of Autopilot or Full Self Driving mode accounted for 273 (or 70%) of those incidents and five fatalities. Tesla leads the market with about 893,000 vehicles on the road using automated technology. Vehicles from manufacturers with smaller market share were also involved in safety incidents: “Honda vehicles were involved in 90 incidents and Subarus in 10. Ford, G.M., BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai and Porsche each reported five or fewer.”
These autonomous car accident numbers were much higher than previously reported by manufacturers. The report prompted Senators Blumenthal and Markey of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, to call on NHTSA to “take aggressive investigative and enforcement action on vehicles with automated driving systems (ADS) and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to ensure the safety of all road users.” They urged the agency to “use all its investigative and regulatory authorities to shed needed light on this out-of-control industry and impose guardrails to prevent more deadly crashes.” The senators had previously called for an investigation into the safety of autonomous driving technology.
Is the NHTSA currently investigating the Tesla Autopilot autonomous driving systems?
On June 9, 2022, the NHTSA indicated it was expanding its August 2021 investigation of a dozen Tesla Autopilot-related accidents with engineering analysis, “a step that will let it better explore Autopilot’s potential role in the crashes and a potential precursor to a recall.” One person died, and fifteen people were injured in those accidents.
The NHTSA is investigating whether the Tesla Autopilot system “undermined” driver supervision of the vehicles. Tesla drivers do not actively drive their vehicles while Autopilot is engaged but should be able to supervise and take control. In each of the accidents, the Teslas were operating under Autopilot when they hit an emergency vehicle parked on the roadside or the road as it aided others. According to NHTSA, the Tesla drivers in each accident would have been able to see the emergency vehicles about eight seconds before hitting them, yet failed to take “evasive action between 2-5 seconds before impact.”
While autonomous driving technology offers potential benefits, the recent NHTSA release of data on accidents, fatalities, and injuries involving technology like Tesla’s Autopilot, and the ongoing investigation into the possibility that the engineering of the Autopilot system undermines driver supervision, raises serious questions about the safety of the technology in autonomous vehicles.
What can I do if I have an accident with a Tesla or other autonomous vehicle?
Georgia imposes strict liability on any manufacturer, distributor, or vehicle seller for harms caused by auto defects. Manufacturers must ensure that their vehicles are safe for use and do not have dangerous defects. This means they may be liable for auto defects without a victim proving negligence. (However, our attorneys may also establish negligence if it was a cause.) Auto product defects may cause personal injury, catastrophic injuries, or even wrongful death.
If you or someone in your family has been the victim of an accident with a Tesla or other autonomous vehicle, you will need the help of an experienced lawyer to determine if a vehicle defect caused the harm. Our Atlanta and Savannah auto product defect lawyers have the experience to investigate potential defects in the vehicle. Our auto product liability attorneys may also investigate to see if a class action lawsuit is required.
Contact Harris Lowry Manton LLP to speak with experienced Atlanta and Savannah auto defect attorneys. Our attorneys have secured millions for clients injured in product liability cases from auto defects. To get compensation for your personal injuries, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost income, or even a catastrophic injury or wrongful death, please phone our offices in Atlanta at 404-998-8847 or Savannah at 912-417-3774 today. You can also complete our contact form. Initial consultations are free.
One of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Jeff Harris is an award-winning litigator who handles high-profile, complex cases across a wide variety of practice areas. He excels at securing justice for clients who have been seriously injured or killed, holding responsible parties accountable for their actions as well as their negligence.
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