The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into a crash involving a Tesla vehicle traveling on Autopilot and a fire truck in California. According to a Reuters news report, in a Twitter post, NHTSA said the “field investigation” would examine both driver and vehicle factors in the incident that occurred on Jan. 22. This is the second time NHTSA is investigating a Tesla crash that may be linked to Autopilot. Tesla’s semi-autonomous driver-assist system handles certain tasks so drivers can take their hands off the wheel for extended periods.
Limitations of the Autopilot Feature
The incident that sparked this investigation reported occurred in Culver City, California. The city’s fire department tweeted that their engine was struck by a Tesla vehicle traveling at 65 mph. The driver reported that the vehicle was an Autopilot. Thankfully, there were no injuries. In the past, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) faulted Tesla for a fatal Autopilot crash in May 2016 that left the driver dead.
NTSB investigators pointed out that there are limits on the system such as Tesla being unable to ensure driver attention even when the car is traveling at high speeds. NTSB recommended that Autopilot should be used only on certain roads and should be able to monitor driver engagement. Investigators also said that Tesla’s semi-autonomous feature lacked system safeguards that are needed.
Driverless Technology and Safety
Tesla has said it won’t comment on this most recent probe. The company has maintained that its semi-autonomous Autopilot feature is purely a “driver assist” feature and is not a full, self-driving technology. After a number of accidents reported around the world, Tesla has issued statements that drivers need to remain attentive at all times and keep their hands on the wheel. The fatal incident in Florida that killed 40-year-old Joshua Brown has raised a number of questions about the safety of such systems.
This is a concern, particularly as we march toward a future that is sure to include driverless vehicles. This is the time for automakers and tech companies that are innovators in this field to take the time and do their due diligence in terms of making sure that these vehicles are safe for consumers. Safety should always come first and drivers or passengers should never be used as test subjects for technologies of the future.