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Car Autopilot Restrictions Proposed

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After a thorough investigation of a Florida crash that killed a Tesla driver, the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that the car’s Autopilot feature contributed to the crash. The Board found that Tesla’s design itself was part of the problem, allowing the driver to use it in unsafe ways.

The NTSB has also recommended that features like Tesla’s Autopilot and similar systems be modified to prevent their use on particular roads.

No Indication of Braking

The May 7, 2016, crash—which was the first fatality involving the Tesla Autopilot feature or any similar feature on other vehicles—happened on a divided highway in Williston, southwest of Gainesville. A truck took a left turn across the two eastbound lanes of the highway, and the Tesla, which had the cruise control and lane-keeping functions of the Autopilot system engaged, crashed into it without making any attempt to slow down or avoid the truck.

The roof of the car was sheared back, and the car continued through a culvert and two fences before snapping a utility pole and coming to a stop. The Tesla driver was killed, but the truck driver was not injured.

The Tesla was moving above the speed limit (seventy-four miles per hour in a sixty-five mph zone), but that was not considered an important factor in the crash.

It’s worth noting that the NTSB investigation listed the truck driver’s failure to yield as the main cause of the crash, but the collision was considered completely avoidable if the Tesla driver had been properly engaged in the driving task and not shown “an over-reliance on the automation and a lack of understanding of the system limitations.”

Conclusions and Recommendations

Chief among the NTSB’s conclusions was that the Tesla Autopilot system allowed the driver to use it in ways that were not intended, despite warnings and guidance from the manufacturer. In so many words, the Board blamed Tesla for designing a system that gave users a false sense of its capability while at the same time having few safeguards in place to stop drivers from misusing it.

“Smart people … are hard at work to automate driving, but systems … like Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ … require the driver to pay attention all the time ….  System safeguards, that should have prevented the Tesla’s driver from using the car’s automation system on certain roadways, were lacking and the combined effects of human error and the lack of sufficient system safeguards resulted in a fatal collision that should not have happened,” said the NTSB chairman.

Based on this, the NTSB has recommended that, in addition to changes in how the system monitors driver attentiveness, it should also be changed to automatically disable Autopilot features on roads where the feature’s use is not appropriate.

Self-Driving Cars Are Coming

Despite this Tesla crash, more advanced driver-assist features continue to appear, and many believe that the switch to self-driving vehicles is just around the corner. There are still a lot of details to get right, but this is one technology that may be closer than many of us think.

The same week this report was released, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced new guidelines to encourage development of this technology (although some have criticized the agency for not taking safety seriously enough).

West Palm Beach Car Accident Lawyer

As personal injury attorneys who have been involved with many accident cases for our clients, the staff members at the Law Offices of Casey D. Shomo make sure we stay on top of all new developments in car accident law.

That means understanding new technologies, such as the Tesla Autopilot feature, as well as new developments that affect existing laws and regulations, such as the proposal to restrict this technology to certain roads until it has matured.

When you’ve been the victim of a car crash in West Palm Beach, regardless of the cause, be sure to bring in a legal team with the right experience to help with your case. We offer clients a free consultation to discuss their unique situation, so give us a call at 561-659-6366 or fill out the form below to schedule yours.