On Friday, May 11, a Tesla sedan was driving in semi-autonomous Autopilot mode when it smashed into a fire department truck at 60 miles per hour without braking before impact. The fire department mechanic truck was stopped at a red light. The incident occurred in South Jordan at the intersection between the South Jordan Parkway and 10400 South. A Tesla car driving in semi-autonomous mode is supposed to brake for the driver. According to Tesla’s website, “All Tesla vehicles…have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.” Because of this, this accident has significant implications for those who use self-driving cars.
According to an article featured in The Guardian, initially, Tesla repeatedly tried to cast blame on the driver, not the semi-autonomous system citing data recovered from the Model S by technicians for the company. Police were unsure if the Autopilot feature was actually engaged. Special crash investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were dispatched to discover the cause of the crash. According to ABC News, investigators said the driver had her hands off the steering wheel at the time. This information confirms the claim made by the woman
According to Tesla’s reports, the 28-year-old woman took her hands off the steering wheel for nearly 80 seconds. The recovered data demonstrated multiple instances where the woman had removed her hands from the wheel during the recorded trip before the crash. The driver also removed her hands from the wheel for periods longer than one minute. Tesla later emphasized the fact that those using their semi-autonomous feature, “absolutely must remain vigilant with their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and they must be prepared to take any and all action necessary to avoid hazards on the road.” Tesla reported to police that because the driver used the Autopilot on a road without a center median and stoplight-controlled intersections, the driver was using the vehicle “contrary to the proper use.” South Jordan police issued a citation for failing to keep a proper lookout while operating a vehicle.
Other companies like General Motors that have incorporated systems to track if drivers are paying attention while utilizing semi-autonomous technology. However, Tesla has not included such technology. According to an article in Bloomberg, CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, tweeted that the company has not used eye-tracking technology because it doesn’t seem to be effective.
This accident makes it appear as though self-driving cars need to sort out a few issues before they are ready for the road. However, an article recently featured on KSL detailing how the future of self-driving cars is probably closer than we think. It is possible that you’ve driven next to a self-driving car on I-15 without even realizing it. The KSL article points out that many of the babies born today will likely never learn how to drive. The same experts make predictions that driverless cars will slowly be implemented over the next five to ten years.
Many Americans are concerned about the future with driverless cars. A poll commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety found 64 percent worry about sharing the road with driverless cars. According to the same article on KSL.com, some said they didn’t think they would feel safe. Some Utah Legislators have sensed this concern among their constituents. Representative Robert Spendlove has encouraged the legislature to formulate a plan for a driverless time in Utah.
This crash has some clear legal implications for drivers of autonomous vehicles. For example, what is the liability if you are hit by a self-driving car? Or, what if you are driving a car, like the woman cited above, and your car suddenly malfunctions causing a crash? The answer to these questions can depend on the circumstances. Here at The Advocates Law Firm, we are excited about what the future may hold for self-driving cars. However, we hope that we can use them safely and eliminate many of the problems that may be associated with them. If you have any questions regarding an accident, give The Advocates Law Firm a call.