Tesla “Autopilot” Crash Should Raise Concerns about Safety of Self-Driving Vehicles


August 14, 2016

Public safety experts and the auto industry have lauded self-driving cars as a major step forward in roadway safety. However, a recent fatal crash involving a Tesla operating on "autopilot" has reignited the debate regarding the safety of autonomous driving vehicles. The deadly crash demonstrates that self-driving cars will likely not prevent all accidents. In this article, our car accident lawyers  investigate some types of circumstances in which self-driving vehicles may not be able to prevent an accident.

A deadly motor vehicle accident that recently focused attention on safety issues involving self-driving vehicles occurred in Florida. Joshua Brown tragically died in a fatal collision with a semi-truck when the driver of the big rig, which was traveling in the opposite direction, turned left across the path of the Tesla. The autopilot feature failed to alter course or brake to avoid the crash because neither the computer detection system nor the radar registered the presence of the truck according to media reports.

In the wake of this tragedy, Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, discussed safety issues involving self-driving vehicles at the Automated Vehicle Symposium in July. During his comments, he indicated that the success of adoption of self-driving technology would turn on safety. He also emphasized the importance of preventing a situation where a high number of auto accidents caused by human error are replaced by collisions caused by self-driving system failures.

While many people still regard the self-driving vehicle as a concept of science fiction, the technology is here, and vehicles that operate autonomously to varying degrees are becoming more prevalent on roadways in Georgia and throughout the U.S. Currently, Tesla has sold approximately 70,000 vehicles that offer an autopilot feature. The automaker anticipates that number will climb to 500,000 within two years. An expert who forecasts auto industry trends has predicted that 94.7 million vehicles will offer a self-driving option by 2025 according to a recent CNBC Report.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Research Institute have identified several scenarios in which autonomous vehicles probably will not be able to prevent a collision. Example include the following:

Crashes Caused by Vehicle Limitations: While a prompt human response can avoid many collisions, situations exist where the natural limitation of the vehicle make it impossible for the driver to prevent an accident. Automobiles are bound by the laws of physics, and some types of accident may be impossible to prevent due to the limitations of the vehicle's brakes, steering and other mechanical systems. For example, a pedestrian who steps in front of a fast moving car at too close of a distance can still be hit because the brakes may not be able stop the vehicle in time, despite a prompt response from the driver or even self-driving car technology.  

Unusual Roadway User Behavior: Self-driving vehicles will have to negotiate obstacles created by other traffic participants. Autonomous vehicles might struggle to identify unusual vehicles, actions, or situations. For example, self-driving systems might not recognize farm equipment or a horse-drawn carriage. Computer systems also might misread a situation where the police or construction workers are directing traffic.

Malfunction of the Self-Driving Computer: A certain percentage of crashes currently are caused by vehicle malfunctions. When sophisticated computer technology is implemented into vehicles, the risk of experiencing a collision caused by a malfunctioning autonomous car increases.  The reason for this is lies in the complexity of information-processing and detection software.

Transition Period Drivers and Autonomous Vehicles: While many predict all vehicles will eventually be autonomous, traffic safety experts warn of the dangers presented during the transition period when drivers and autonomous vehicles share the road. The interaction between drivers and self-driving vehicles may be deadly.  Drivers often proceed based on feedback from another motorist, such as a wave, nod, or horn honk, but self-driving vehicles will likely not be able to respond to these types of visual prompts and feedback.

Put Our Firm's Over 30 Years of Legal Experience to Work for You

If you or your loved one has been injured in an auto accident caused by some else's negligence, contact our knowledgeable attorneys at Montlick & Associates for a free consultation. We will examine the facts and circumstances of what happened in your accident and advise you on your legal rights as well as what steps are necessary to protect those rights.  Our Georgia lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorney at Law, are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and in the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located, our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you.

Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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