Is NHTSA Getting Ready to Formally Investigate Tesla's Autopilot?
A Tesla Model X, which was reportedly operating on autopilot mode, struck a Phoenix police motorcycle, the Arizona Republic reported. According to the article, the incident happened a few days before a driverless Uber vehicle in Tempe. Phoenix police said the incident happened on March 21 when a Tesla driver and an on-duty officer exited the Black Canyon Freeway onto Utopia Road. The officer was in front of the Tesla driver and stopped for a stoplight.
The Tesla, however, continued moving forward prompting the officer to jump off the motorcycle. The car struck the fallen motorcycle, but no damage was reported to either vehicle as the car was moving at three miles per hour. The Tesla driver told police that the car was in autopilot mode at the time of the incident. But since it was a very minor collision, there will be no further investigation, officials said.
Tesla officials said they have not received report of the incident. Days after this crash, a Volvo SUV operating under Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars, collided with another vehicle whose driver failed to yield while making a left turn in Tempe. No one was seriously injured in that crash either.
‘Autopilot’ is a Deceptive Name
Even though it is called “autopilot,” Tesla’s driver-assist feature is only semi-autonomous, an important detail the company has started to emphasize only after several crashes where the autopilot was engaged. One notable crash in Florida in May 2016 killed the driver. In that case, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cleared the autopilot feature.
However, the crash did occur because neither the car nor the driver recognized a white big-rig turning into the path. The company has issued warnings since saying drivers should not entirely rely on the autopilot feature, but should be ready to take over at a moment’s notice. Consumer Reports issued an opinion that Tesla should not call its driver-assist feature autopilot because it is misleading to motorists who probably believe they can relax and not worry about paying attention.
The March Toward Driverless Cars
As personal injury lawyers who represent seriously injured victims of car accidents, we worry about semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles making their way to the market and our roadways before they have been properly tested and vetted. While it is important to embrace the technology of the future, we should not be in a rush to embrace technology that hasn’t been fully developed. It is unacceptable for tech companies and automakers to use us, the public, as guinea pigs for their experiments with driverless cars.