Fatal Tesla Autopilot Crash Raises Safety Concerns
Recently, a driver was killed while operating his Tesla vehicle on autopilot. The accident occurred in May of this year, but it has just now reached the public spotlight. The known facts surrounding the crash are as follows: The driver, a former Navy SEAL, was driving his Model S luxury electric car in autopilot mode in Williston, Florida. A tractor trailer was making a left-hand turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection when the Tesla slammed into the side of a tractor-trailer. Tragically, the vehicle traveled under the bottom of the trailer, exited the roadway, crossed a field, and hit a utility pole, killing the driver. Investigations into the accident are ongoing, but the crash itself has raised significant safety concerns about new autopilot technology.
Tesla's Autopilot Feature
Tesla is one of several automakers to offer a preliminary autopilot feature on its automobiles. The autopilot mode uses an array of sensors and cameras to take over steering and braking on behalf of the driver. While this is an exciting feature for many consumers, the technology is still in its infancy. Tesla has stated that all customers must acknowledge that autopilot is a new technology that is still under development. When autopilot is activated on a Tesla vehicle, an acknowledgment box appears, which states autopilot is an assist feature, and drivers must maintain control and responsibility of the vehicle.
Autopilot May be Implicated in Additional Crashes
Just one day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched its investigation into the fatal Florida crash, a second accident that also appears to have involved Tesla's autopilot, occurred in Pennsylvania. The accident happened when a Tesla Model X electric SUV, which was carrying two passengers, struck the guardrail and rolled onto its roof, all while allegedly in autopilot mode. Fortunately, the driver and passenger were not injured in the crash.
Too Much, Too Soon?
This accident and others like it have some questioning whether technology that has not been perfected, like autopilot, should be installed in vehicles at all. Opponents of this technology argue that automakers are essentially performing beta testing with live people. Evidence has emerged suggesting that the driver killed in the Tesla crash was watching a movie at the time of the accident. Despite Tesla's warning that drivers cannot completely turn over control to autopilot, it appears some drivers are already giving way to temptation—and the technology may not be ready to commercialize to the public.
On the other hand, however, the number of individuals injured or killed in vehicles with semi-autonomous capabilities is far lower than those killed in vehicles without such features. These vehicles are generally regarded as extremely safe and preventing the introduction of technology like autopilot could slow innovation. America is headed towards a world of autonomous vehicles, in time, and many feel cutting edge automakers like Tesla should be introducing their new technology. For now, federal lawmakers will continue to review the two Tesla accidents and likely introduce regulations for self-driving features.
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