As we enter the age of driverless cars, Tesla Motors recently disclosed the first known death caused by a self-driving vehicle. In June 2016 the driver of a Tesla Model S car, a 40 year old Ohio man, put the car into autopilot mode, which is able to control the car during highway driving. The car’s sensors, and the driver, failed to notice a white 18 wheel tractor trailer crossing the highway “against a brightly lit sky” and brakes were not applied. The car, which was speeding at 74 mph in a 65 mph zone, slammed into the trailer, ripping off the top of the car. Tesla’s representative said that the vehicle’s radar did not help because it “tunes out what looks like an overhead road sign to avoid false braking events.” The truck driver was not injured.
Tesla said this was the first known autopilot death during autopilot use for more than 130 million miles. Tesla also noted that a fatality occurs every 94 million miles in the US and every 60 million miles worldwide.
As more driverless cars are manufactured the question remains as to whether self-driving car technology makes cars safer. Autopilot experts have criticized Tesla for introducing the technology so early. A Volvo engineer says the system “gives you the impression that it’s doing more than it is.” Because the car handles most situations smoothly, it leads drivers to believe that the car can handle any situation it encounters.
Adding to these safety concerns is the fact that there are no federal regulations relating to autonomous vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently issued a policy statement concerning automated vehicles indicating that within “six months, the NHTSA will propose best-practice guidance to industry on establishing principles of safe operation for fully autonomous vehicles.” This leaves each state to develop its own regulations which can result in inconsistent laws that are difficult to enforce. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nine states and the District of Columbia have some form of legislation. Pennsylvania has created an Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force to make recommendations to the Department of Transportation for drafting regulations. A bill was introduced in the PA House Rules Committee that defines terms related to autonomous vehicles, regulates the testing of autonomous vehicles and allows for the adoption of regulations dealing with autonomous vehicles.
As autopilot technology continues to advance, it is important to remember it is not perfect and still requires drivers to remain alert and responsible for the vehicle’s actions.
The Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers at Williams Cedar have represented thousands of personal injury victims. If you have been injured due to a defective automobile product or the negligence of another contact us online, or call 215-557-0099 or 856-664-7500.