Autopilot Crashed My Car. Who’s Liable?

TeslaBy Mackenzie Olson

Recently, numerous drivers have claimed that their Tesla vehicles have crashed while in autopilot mode. Perhaps most notable was a crash that occurred in Florida, when a 2015 Tesla Model S in autopilot mode failed to apply the brakes and subsequently crashed into an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer. The driver of the Tesla was killed.

Traffic fatalities are commonplace. In 2014, there were 29,989 motor crashes in the United States, from which 32,675 deaths resulted. This, however, is the first fatality that has occurred in a Tesla while it operated in autopilot mode. However, Tesla autopilot has been used in over 130 million miles, and on average, a fatality occurs every 94 million miles in the United States and every 60 million miles worldwide. Such facts can seem to beg the conclusion that Tesla autopilot renders its vehicles safer than those that are manually operated.

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A Glimpse into the Future: Driverless Cars Have Arrived

teslaBy Naazaneen Hodjat

To much fanfare, Tesla Motors announced the release of its Autopilot version 7.0 which effectively allows its Model S to use a “combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic.” Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk, describes the Autopilot program as a “profound experience for its drivers” —one that “when owners try it out and see the car drive [by itself] they’re blown away.”

The Tesla Autopilot program aims to increase the driver’s confidence behind the wheel by reducing the driver’s workload and helping the car avoid hazards—significantly improving driver safety. Its Autosteer technology allows for hands-free and pedal-free driving on the highway. The new program, however, does not read traffic lights or poorly marked roads and is programmed to relinquish control back to the driver if it loses confidence in its ability to drive safely. The Autopilot also contains an Auto Lane Change feature—the driver must simply engage the turn signal and the Autopilot will move itself over to the adjacent lane when it is safe to do so. Finally, the program has an Autopark function that enables the car to scan the surroundings of a parking spot and parallel park itself. Although the Autopilot program allows Tesla sedans to steer and park themselves, Musk warns that Tesla drivers are expected to stay engaged while driving. In fact, owners are instructed to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. Tesla cautions drivers against trusting its Autopilot program too much and reminds drivers that they are still responsible. Continue reading