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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released the results of its extensive investigation into a 2016 accident that killed the driver of a Tesla car while he was using the Autopilot system. The car was traveling on a Florida state road that had access from cross streets. A truck entered an intersection to turn left and crossed paths with the Tesla, which was travelling 74 mph on Autopilot. Because the car’s software failed to detect the truck and slow down, the Tesla smashed headlong into the trailer of the truck, fatally injuring the driver.
The NTSB’s report placed blame on the driver of the truck for failure to yield and on the driver of the Tesla for relying too heavily on the Autopilot feature of the car. However, the board also said that the Autopilot software was a contributing factor in the crash. Some software, including the one used by Tesla, uses sensors that can detect whether a driver’s hands are on the wheel to gauge the involvement of the driver. The NTSB investigation found that the autopilot system of the Tesla should not have been used on that type of road, but that the software allowed the system to engage. Additionally, the driver was distracted from the task of driving for an extended period of time, which also went unchecked by the software.
The board’s vote on the probable cause of the crash was unanimous. Although the software worked as designed, they noted that it could only be used in limited environments for certain tasks. In the Florida crash, the Autopilot system was being used outside the environment for which it had been intended. This combined with the fact that the driver’s attention was allowed to be diverted for so long led to the fatal collision.
The Tesla company responded to the NTSB’s conclusions by citing a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that concluded there was no need for any Tesla recall because their Autopilot had no safety defects. They emphasized that customers should be attentive at all times as Autopilot technology does not mean that the car is fully self-driving. Tesla said it was committed to making this clear to both current and potential customers.
The NHTSA has conducted tests that show semi-autonomous vehicles like the Tesla involved in the crash cannot easily detect cross traffic with any reliability. According to the Tesla owners manual, Autopilot is only for use on highways and limited access roads with on and off ramps.
Recommendations from the NTSB report include:
Most motor vehicle accidents can be attributed to driver error and this includes drivers who are distracted. If you have been injured in a car accident caused by distracted driving or any other form of negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Consult a knowledgeable and skilled Cherry Hill car accident lawyer to discuss your legal options. Call Folkman Law Offices, P.C. today at 856-354-9444 to schedule a free case review or contact us online. From our offices in Cherry Hill, Philadelphia and King of Prussia, we serve clients across New Jersey and Pennsylvania.