Is NHTSA Getting Ready to Formally Investigate Tesla's Autopilot?
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk says his company is getting ready to update its Autopilot technology – updates, which he says, might have prevented a car accident in May that claimed the life of 40-year-old Joshua Brown. According to a report in The New York Times, the man was killed when his Model S car, which was on Autopilot mode at the time, crashed into a tractor-trailer on a Florida highway.
The improvements, which are scheduled to be released in the next couple of weeks, include modifications that require drivers to refrain from taking their hands off the steering wheel for longer periods and more precise use of radar to recognize potential obstacles in the roadway. During a conference on Sunday with reporters, Musk said he believed that the fatal May 7 crash could have very likely been prevented with these pending updates to the Autopilot system.
Automaker Under Scrutiny
Since Brown’s fatal crash, Tesla and its Autopilot system have come under significant scrutiny. Brown was traveling at 74 mph on a highway near Williston, Florida, when the car’s Autopilot system failed to recognize a white truck crossing its path against a bright sky. Data from the vehicle showed that neither Brown nor the Autopilot system activated the brakes before impact. Tesla previously suggested that the accident resulted from the driver’s failure to remain in control of the vehicle.
Autopilot warns drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road while the system is engaged. Federal safety regulators are still investigating the incident. Musk said the improvements might prevent a recall and that it will be an over-the-air update, meaning consumers will not need to bring their vehicles in to dealers for the upgrade. The Autopilot upgrade will give drivers more frequent warnings to put their hands on the steering wheel at moderate and higher speeds. The system will also more precisely identify objects and vehicles on the roadway.
Did Tesla Put the Cart Before the Horse?
Musk has mentioned that these upgrades mark a “dramatic improvement” in the safety of Tesla vehicles. The question then is why these vehicles were put on our roads and in the hands of consumers before they were made as safe as possible. Several accidents involving Tesla vehicles around the world have raised questions and serious concerns about the safety not just of Tesla vehicles, but of autonomous and semi-autonomous technologies as a whole.
Automakers and technology companies seem to be in a rush to get these vehicles out in the market and on our roadways. But are they really safe? Or are consumers being used as guinea pigs for this new technology? As auto defect attorneys we question the move to put autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles on our roadways when they are clearly not ready.