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Tesla Autopilot Accident Raises Questions

Jason Reese

Last week, the public learned of the first fatal accident involving one of Tesla’s vehicles while the Autopilot system was enabled. A Tesla Model S crashed into the side of a semi-truck in May in Florida, and the car’s driver, 45-year-old Joshua Brown was killed. Though this is the first death involving the Tesla Autopilot in 130 million miles driven, a much safer rate of incident than the average U.S. vehicle fatality every 94 million miles driven, the Tesla Autopilot accident has raised many questions.

In the accident, an 18-wheeler pulled out in front of and perpendicular to Brown’s Tesla. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation, Tesla has released a statement touching upon a potential contributor to the accident. An excerpt is below.

“What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”

Headlines about the accident seem to imply the technology itself is at fault for this accident. In many cases, the very nature of the Tesla Autopilot system is misstated. The Tesla Autopilot system does not, in fact, make the Tesla Model S a “self-driving” or “autonomous” vehicle. Tesla, Tesla enthusiasts, and technology publications have been quick to point out that Autopilot is an assist feature intended to decrease driver workload and requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times. They also note that Autopilot is turned off as the default setting in new cars, and owners must willingly engage the system before it is activated.

NHTSA Investigation Will Be Multi-Faceted

Initially, NHTSA will be reviewing the accident to ascertain whether or not the system worked as was expected. More complicated may be answering a question about whether or not Tesla intentionally created a false sense of security for drivers of Tesla vehicles with Autopilot activated. In Switzerland, an accident occurred when a driver of a Tesla Model S hit a van, believing the Autopilot would brake for him and stop the collision. With another non-fatal accident being publicized this week, the ultimate question may be whether or not Tesla misled customers about the system’s capacity and created dangerous scenarios caused by drivers who are overestimating their car’s abilities.

The investigation will take some time, and we’ll be following the results closely. If you or someone you know have been injured as a result of activating and using the Autopilot feature on a Tesla vehicle, you may have a case against the electric vehicle giant. Call the product liability and vehicular accident attorneys at Wagner Reese today for your risk-free, no-cost consultation: (888) 204-8440.


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