There is no doubt that technology has brought us into a new age. Technological improvements have always simplified human tasks, whether for the better or worse. As the automotive industry evolves and embraces autonomous driving technologies, the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) equipped with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) has become a topic of concern, especially here in Savannah, where in October 2022 Hyundai broke ground on a new EV manufacturing plant.
Currently, the leading EV manufacturer, Tesla, faces scrutiny over its Autopilot feature, designed to enable a level of autonomous driving. With a notable number of accidents, some fatal, during the Autopilot roll out process, there is a growing tension among road users regarding their safety around autonomous vehicles.
What is the Tesla Autopilot controversy?
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, has often defended the safety of Autopilot, asserting that it reduces accidents compared to human drivers. In a June 2023 Washington Post article, Musk is quoted as saying “At the point of which you believe that adding autonomy [to EVs] reduces injury and death, I think you have a moral obligation to deploy it even though you’re going to get sued and blamed by a lot of people… Because the people whose lives you saved don’t know that their lives were saved.”
However, numerous incidents have raised concerns and prompted investigations by regulatory bodies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These incidents have revealed distinct patterns and indicated that the technology is not without flaws.
Fatal crashes involving Tesla cars have raised questions about the reliability and effectiveness of Autopilot. There are public safety consequences of this technology and their consequences must be considered.
How many casualties have been caused by Tesla Autopilot?
As of June 2023 there have been 17 fatalities and 736 car accidents linked to Tesla Autopilot. Experts have expressed concern about the surge in Tesla crashes and the potential risks associated with the expanded rollout of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features. Missy Cummings, a former NHTSA senior safety adviser and professor at George Mason University’s College of Engineering and Computing, highlights the higher number of severe and fatal crashes involving Teslas compared to a normal data set. She suggests that the wider availability of driver-assistance features to a broad range of users could be contributing to increased accident rates.
The Washington Post article included an interview with Philip Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University specializing in autonomous-vehicle safety, who emphasizes the need to understand whether the higher number of crashes is due to worse collision outcomes or simply a result of more miles being driven with Autopilot engaged. The increased availability and deployment of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving feature, which brings driver-assistance to city and residential streets, may contribute to an uptick in accidents. The expanded rollout allows more drivers, including those who may not be adequately prepared, to access and use the technology, potentially leading to increased accident rates. This is important to consider as our society tries to accurately assess the risks associated with Autopilot in Savannah and around the world.
What are the common causes for Autopilot accidents?
Based on the accounts listed in the Washington Post article, the common causes of autopilot accidents in Tesla vehicles can be attributed to several factors:
- Flaws in the technology: As the Washington Post suggests, there are clear flaws in the technology being tested in real time on American highways. Tesla’s decision to strip vehicles of radar sensors could result in a loss of critical sensor data, potentially impacting the system’s ability to detect and respond to hazards in real time.
- Failure to follow traffic laws: There have been instances where Tesla vehicles equipped with driver-assistance systems have been reported to disobey traffic lights, stop signs, and speed limits. Even if this happens very rarely, the consequences can be dire.
- Lack of driver engagement and responsibility: Despite the advanced driver-assistance systems, Tesla emphasizes that the human driver must remain in control and fully engaged in the driving task. Some accidents may occur due to drivers relying too heavily on the Autopilot features and failing to intervene when necessary or properly monitor the road conditions.
- Inadequate situational awareness: Autopilot systems primarily operate in a less complex environment, such as highways. Accidents may occur when the system encounters more challenging situations, such as emergency vehicles or motorcycles, where its ability to accurately respond may be compromised.
- Phantom braking and false hazard detection: Some Tesla drivers have reported incidents of “phantom braking,” where vehicles abruptly slow down for non-existent hazards. False hazard detection or improper system responses can lead to unexpected braking maneuvers and potential accidents.
It is important to note that the information provided highlights concerns and patterns observed in Tesla’s Autopilot accidents, but it does not show all possible causes or factors contributing to these incidents. According to The New York Times, the NHTSA is actively investigating Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems to gain a deeper understanding of their performance and safety.
If you or a loved one has been in a car crash with an EV in Autopilot mode, contact the experienced team of car accident and product liability attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP to handle your Savannah case. Read our testimonials to see how we have successfully represented your Savannah neighbors in similar cases.
After your accident involving a self-driving car, choose Harris Lowry Manton LLP to hold the negligent driver and the manufacturer accountable. Our trusted team of product liability and vehicle accident attorneys are here to provide peace of mind to the legal side of your recovery after your accident. Call or contact us today at our convenient Savannah office and let us begin fighting for your rights.
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