An autonomous vehicle made by Tesla was involved in a significant accident while operating in Autopilot mode. Police in South Jordan, Utah confirmed that a 28-year-old woman was operating a Model S that crashed into a fire truck while in self-driving mode. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating this incident. There have been several accidents recently with self-driving vehicles, which is an indicator that the technology still has some major concerns to address.
Prior to Crash
The vehicle did have a “black box” data collection device that indicated the driver did not touch the steering wheel for a period of 80 seconds before the collision occurred. The driver, whose name was not released, did acknowledge that she was using her mobile phone before the crash, which occurred at 60 miles per hour. The data device showed that she had pressed the brake pedal just before the crash; however, eyewitnesses could not confirm this.
Injuries & Damage
The driver was transported to a local hospital for treatment of a broken ankle. The operator of the fire truck complained of possible whiplash but did not need immediate medical attention. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that it was “amazing” how both drivers were not more seriously injured in the 60 miles per hour collision, as impacts at such high speeds are commonly fatal. The driver was cited for a traffic infraction in the accident. Tesla issued a statement reiterating that drivers must monitor the road ahead to avoid these types of incidents.
Tesla clearly places the fault with the driver, who was simply not paying attention to the road. Unlike some of the autonomous vehicles made by General Motors, Tesla does not employ the technology that is supposedly able to detect when a driver is not viewing the roadway ahead, such as Cadillac's Super Cruise system that apparently uses “eye-tracking” technology for this purpose. Tesla also explained that the Autopilot mode of operation is designed to be used in environments with a center median and traffic signals. The company pointed out that each autonomous vehicle accident seems to be reported by the media while hundreds of other auto accidents in traditional vehicles go unnoticed.
Tesla Model S Technology
Some of the features of the Model S that Tesla highlights include the following:
- Capable of reaching 60 miles per hour in only 2.3 seconds, has a five-star safety rating, and can travel up to 335 miles when fully charged.
- The all-wheel drive and traction control systems operate well in inclement weather
- If the electrical system is charged for 30 minutes, it is capable of then traveling roughly for 170 miles
- Cameras are positioned in the front, rear and sides
- Advanced radar and sensor technology allows the vehicle to detect the many elements of the driving environment
Federal authorities have conducted investigations on several Tesla vehicle crashes this year. As with any vehicle accident, there are a host of potential causes. In self-driving vehicles, there are potentially more complex problems that may involve hardware, software, and other technology. Ultimately, the operator of the vehicle is responsible for injuries and property damage that may occur. It remains to be seen if manufacturers of autonomous vehicles will face potential claims of product liability from accidents while operating in self-driving mode. Those who incur significant injuries and/or property damage should consider consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney.