Is NHTSA Getting Ready to Formally Investigate Tesla's Autopilot?
Even as U.S. regulators have launched a probe into a horrific crash involving a Tesla S model in Florida that killed a former Navy SEAL, they have now received a second report of a crash in Pittsburgh involving a Tesla Model X, which almost killed two others. According to a news report in the Detroit Free Press, Albert Scaglione, an art gallery owner and his son-in-law, Tim Yanke, both survived the crash, which occurred July 1 near the Bedford exit, about 107 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Police said Scaglione’s car was traveling east near mile marker 160, at about 5 p.m., when it hit a guardrail, crossed over the eastbound lanes and hit the concrete median. The Tesla Model X then rolled onto its roof and came to rest in the middle eastbound lane. Police are still looking into what caused this crash, but have said that they have not yet found evidence that the Tesla’s Autopilot malfunctioned.
Last week, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it is investigating the Autopilot system after the May 7 crash in Florida killed the owner of a Tesla Model S. In that case, the car hit a big-rig turning left while it was in self-driving mode. That case was also a little different from the one in Pennsylvania because the federal agency clearly stated that both the driver and the Autopilot system failed to detect the large tractor-trailer making a left turn in front.
The Question of Autonomous Vehicles
The Florida incident encouraged Tesla to issue a warning to drivers that the Autopilot system is merely an “assist feature” and that drivers should still keep both hands at the wheel at all times, ready to take control and take over at any time. NHTSA is getting ready to issue guidelines intended to set the rules of the road for autonomous vehicles.
Proponents for autonomous vehicles argue that technology such as Autopilot should be twice as safe as the manual systems they replace. “While perhaps true, I have seen no evidence to support such a statement,” says auto defect attorney Brian Chase.
Right now, we’re seeing different levels of autonomy in vehicles. On the one hand, there are what we call “automated driver assist features” such as emergency braking, lane departure alert and adaptive cruise control. The next level – a more daring level of autonomy – is the one that’s touted as allowing occupants to text, e-mail, read or watch movies as the vehicle is in operation.
“As I have routinely stated when it comes to this technology, it may be a great life saving some day, but that day has yet to arrive. We are still in the investigation phase and we should not be the guinea pigs upon which it is tested,” says Chase.
Regulators should conduct a thorough investigation of both these incidents to determine if an Autopilot malfunction caused or contributed to the crashes. These cars should not be on our roadways until they are proven to be safe. One death is one too many.