This past week, another story emerged of a Tesla autopilot failure. A North Carolina doctor’s Model S sedan catastrophically failed when it drove directly into not one, but two police vehicles. The Tesla collided with a police-issue Dodge Charger that was stopped to assist a highway patrol trooper, pushing the Charger into the patrol car, and knocking both officers to the ground. Luckily no one was hurt, because the results could have been much worse, given fatal past precedents.
The Tesla driver had been watching a movie at the time instead of the road. He was charged with infractions related to the state’s “Move Over” law, designed to give an extra lane of space for emergency vehicles stopped on roadways, as well as distracted driving restrictions on the use of a TV in automobiles. The question that must be asked is, did the driver cause the crash or did the autopilot cause the crash?
While initial determinations of fault in this recent story have already been cited, there are much larger questions about responsibility for autopilot accidents ongoing in our courts, legislative halls, and government agencies at this time. This new technology is not as regulated as you might think, and because our legal system has not yet fully grappled with the implications of the new technology, determining the fault and the cause of these accidents can become very murky and highly contested.
The National Traffic Safety Board issued a report on just this question earlier this year. The role of the NTSB is to investigate crashes and make safety recommendations to avoid such tragedies. In tandem with the National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration (NHTSA), they work toward a goal of safer roads and safer driving practices, though the relations between the two organizations are not always smooth.
This report is a case in point, as the NTSB took the noteworthy action of placing some blame for autopilot crashes on the NHTSA. Their concern was that the NHTSA has not demanded enough from automakers such as Tesla when it comes to built-in safety measures and restrictive use of new autopilot technologies.
The NHTSA’s response to the report is that they are reviewing the analysis, and a reminder that “all commercially available vehicles require human drivers to stay in control at all times.” This statement is directly at odds with the fact that automakers such as Tesla continue to make technology counter to this guideline freely available to consumers and put such cars out on the road. The NTSB believes the current state of laws and guidelines are not enough effort to maintain the safety of US roads when it comes to autopilot features.
Tesla itself also was deemed a responsible party for the injuries and deaths that have occurred in their vehicles. The allegation is that Tesla has not effectively limited autopilot use. Drivers are still in control of turning on and using the future in circumstances where it is not intended to be used. When asked for comment in the NTSB’s investigations, Tesla indicated that their owner’s manuals state that autopilot is designed for use on limited-access highways with no cross traffic. The company also says autopilot is an assisting system, not a replacement for the attention of the driver. Drivers must be ready to intervene at all times. However, Tesla has faced accusations of fault for failing to limit the use of its autopilot feature to the situation outlined just above. Drivers remain able to turn on the feature at their discretion.
Certainly, although not of particular focus in this report, drivers of the autopilot vehicles themselves have faced criticism and blame for the accidents. It is a duty and responsibility of each driver who gets behind the wheel to remain alert and cautious while driving. It takes the collective effort of everyone sharing the road to keep it safe. This thinking is particularly saddening when the driver is killed in these autopilot crashes. We certainly hope that we see an end to tragic injuries and deaths resulting from vehicle autopilot features.
It’s unusual to see technological progress pull back, so it’s likely that autopilot features and designs toward fully self-driving cars are here to stay. What remains to be seen is how our government and auto industries will react. Legislation for agreed upon and consistent product development, testing, deployment and use will be required to consistently manage the risk of this technology. And the automakers, such as Tesla, need to change the way they build and sell these technologies to include better fail-safes and restrictions for careful use.
Improved technology is cause for excitement and optimism, especially if we can look forward to safer, more automated roadways in years to come. The positive implications of autopilot features could mean an end to distracted driving, intoxicated driving, and driver error crashes. We can only hope that there are no more injuries or fatalities as we work toward that future.
With over 350 years of combined experience, the team at Thompson Law is uniquely equipped to handle a wide range of personal injury cases. Our experienced attorneys have won over $1.8 billion for our clients, and have served injured accident victims throughout Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas, and nationally. The work that we do at Thompson Law is specifically designed to not only get you the very best settlement or verdict but to deliver an exceptional, 5-star client experience throughout that process as well.
If you or someone you love has been hurt in an accident with an autopilot car, such as a Tesla, or any other type of motor vehicle, Thompson Law is here to help you. Our staff is available 24/7 to take your call or message, provide you with a free on-the-spot consultation, and get you on the path to recovery.
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The State of Texas has a statute of limitations of two (2) years for personal injury cases, so if you have been hit and injured by a self-driving car, device on autopilot, or any other motor vehicle, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. The sooner you know your options, the sooner you are on a smooth path to recovery and your deserved compensation. If you’ve been hesitating to reach out, don’t delay any further. Call Thompson Law right away for assistance with your injury and claim.
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