Is NHTSA Getting Ready to Formally Investigate Tesla's Autopilot?
Indianapolis police are looking into Tesla’s Autopilot feature played a part in a fatal car accident in that city. According to a report in Fortune.com, the incident killed the Tesla’s driver, Casey Speckman, and his 44-year-old passenger, Kevin McCarthy, early morning on November 3, 2016. Witnesses at the time told the Indianapolis fire department that the 2015 Tesla Model S car was traveling at a high rate of speed and seemed to lose control before crashing into a tree.
It left a debris field over 150 yards long and caused several fires. The car’s lithium-ion battery cells also fired off like projectiles, according to media reported. Tesla issued a statement saying “it’s highly unlikely that Autopilot had anything to do with the accident.” Tesla spokespersons said the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to the company’s servers because of the extensive damage caused by the crash. Tesla is working with local fire officials in the investigation.
Tesla’s Autopilot Troubles
This is not the first time Tesla’s Autopilot feature has come under scrutiny. The first known fatality in the U.S. occurred in Florida when a man driving a Model S and had engaged the Autopilot feature collided with a semi-trailer truck. Months after that in China, a man blamed his son’s car accident on a fault in the Autopilot system. Several other injury accidents have also been reported here in the U.S. and in China and Europe. After the fatal Florida crash, Consumer Reports called on Tesla to remove the Autopilot name and feature saying it confuses drivers who may believe that it is entirely autonomous when it is not.
These incidents may seem sporadic, but in our opinion, it is sufficient for Tesla to take a step back and do something about the safety of its vehicles. These are vehicles with groundbreaking technology that has not been tested adequately for safety and potential glitches. It is frightening that autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles are out on our streets right now before governments can issue regulations and before consumers can get a good understanding of how these vehicles work.
As auto product liability attorneys, we are opposed to automakers using consumers as guinea pigs to test out their technology. Tesla should be held accountable and should not be able to get away by placing the blame squarely on drivers when its own technology is suspect.