Is NHTSA Getting Ready to Formally Investigate Tesla's Autopilot?
The Tesla car that was involved in a fatal crash in Florida in May was in Autopilot mode and going about 10 miles faster than the speed limit, according to safety regulators who are conducting the investigation. The Los Angeles Times reports said they also released a picture of the mangled vehicle that showed the impact of the horrific collision. Earlier reports had stated that the Tesla Model S struck a big rig while traveling on a divided highway in central Florida, and had speculated that the Tesla Autopilot system had failed to intervene in time to prevent the collision. This is the first known fatality in a Tesla using the Autopilot feature.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report that confirms some details of the May 7 collision along with a photo that shows the crumpled Tesla Model S car. Investigators say the Tesla was moving at 74 mph, over the posted 65 mph speed limit, when it struck the tractor-trailer. The Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot driving feature was engaged. The car was also equipped with automatic emergency braking that is designed to automatically apply the brakes to reduce the severity of collisions or to avoid the crash.
Did the Autopilot Function Properly?
Shortly after the crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk speculated that the Autopilot might not have functioned properly because it could not tell the bright sky from the white side of the trailer. The company has also emphasized that the Autopilot is still in a “public beta” phase of introduction and has its limitations, and that Tesla drivers should stay alert and keep their hands on the steering wheel because the technology does not provide fully autonomous driving.
So, this announcement from Tesla prompted Consumer Reports to stop calling its technology Autopilot, and misleading consumers with the false impression that the system can drive itself without the driver’s input. We may have to wait for up to a year for the NTSB to complete its investigation.
As auto defect lawyers who represent the rights of injured victims and their families, the right thing for Tesla to do would be to disable the Autopilot until it figures out why it is not working the way it is supposed to work. Instead Tesla has blamed the drivers in two other crashes where the Autopilot was on and stood by the driver-assist feature. Tesla is putting tens of thousands of drivers in grave danger and it’s unacceptable.