Jun 22

In Wake of Crash, Safety Board Takes Close Look at Autopilot Cars

by Tate Law Offices, P.C.Car Accidents

Autopilot Car Safety

Tesla made the news, again, following a car crash that involved one of its autopilot-equipped vehicles. Thankfully, this time, no one suffered serious injuries or died. Still, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched an investigation into the crash. The agency wants to get a better understanding of how autopilot car features and other types of driverless or self-driving vehicle technology may contribute to accidents.

Similar autopilot car crashes have happened all over the country in recent years. They are no longer isolated events. For instance, in 2016, a Texas man suffered minor injuries when his Tesla missed a curve in the road and accelerated through a guardrail, Insurance Journal reports. Additionally, a study by University of Michigan researchers found that automated vehicles are five times more likely to be involved in a collision than conventional cars.

It’s no wonder that this crash trend has caught the attention of federal regulators, investigators, and lawmakers.

NTSB Tesla Crash Investigations

The most recent Tesla investigation involves a Tesla Model S sedan that got into a wreck in California, according to Bloomberg News. The Tesla driver used an “Autopilot driver-assist system” feature on the car. This feature should cause a car to adapt and correct to the road and avoid collisions. It should also slow down a car and reduce the impact of a collision. Even though the driver allegedly used these features at the time of the crash, the Tesla ran into the back of a fire truck at a speed of approximately 65 mph, Bloomberg reports.

The last major Tesla crash that the NTSB investigated occurred in Florida in 2016. The crash claimed the life of the driver. According to the NTSB’s preliminary investigation report, the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer tried to turn left across oncoming lanes of travel. The Tesla did not stop or brake. Instead, it proceeded and hit a speed of about 74 mph. The car went beneath the trailer of the combination truck.  According to the report, Tesla’s autopilot feature may have contributed to the accident.

In 2016, Tesla released a statement that discussed the “Autopilot driver-assist” feature. The company said that even though the technology may be in use, drivers still receive numerous warnings about making sure to stay attentive, keep their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over control of the vehicle at any time. The system checks on the driver to make sure that he or she is still alert. For instance, it issues audible alerts if the driver’s hands come off the wheel and slows to a stop until the driver’s hands are back on the wheel.

Making Sense of Automated Vehicle Technology

Varying degrees of technology can control a vehicle.  For instance, power brakes and power steering are, technically, forms of automated vehicle technology. Most safety experts agree that this technology has made cars safer, improved driving conditions and reduced the overall number of crashes in our country.

Today, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International) recognizes six levels of automation in vehicles:  

  • Level 0 – No automation
  • Level 1 – Driver assistance only
  • Level 2 – Partial automation
  • Level 3 – Conditional automation
  • Level 4 – High automation
  • Level 5 – Full automation

None of today’s Tesla cars have reached levels of automation above Level 2. However, some believe driverless cars will reach higher levels very soon. By the year 2040, driverless car technology could reduce motor vehicle accidents by as much as 80 percent, TechRepublic reports.  

Concerns About Driver Overreliance and Complacency

One serious concern about automation is that it makes drivers complacent. The NTSB released a report last year about the 2016 Tesla crash in Florida which pointed to the problem of driver “overreliance” on technology. According to the report:

  • The Tesla driver demonstrated a “pattern of use” showing that he over-relied on the technology.
  • The Tesla system’s interaction with the driver was not effective at deterring misuse.
  • The cause of the crash was the driver being inattentive.
  • Systems must be able to restrict use, or drivers will be at risk.
  • Tesla made changes to the system which now require drivers to keep hands on the wheel.

This report should teach us one undeniable lesson: Even when drivers operate a highly advanced vehicle with computerized monitoring and autopilot features, the driver still is ultimately responsible for his or her vehicle. The driver must remain awake, alert and in control of the car. However, at times, the features may fail, or they may not permit an an alert driver to take over control. In those cases, the manufacturer may be liable.  

Steps to Follow If You Are in a Driverless Car Crash

If you suffer injuries in a car crash that involves automated driving technology, remember to remain calm. Just like any type of personal injury case, the actions you take in the days immediately following the accident will make a big difference when you pursue compensation for your injuries. Here are a few points to remember:

  • Call 911 – Even if you don’t think anyone is hurt, the police will need to be called so they can investigate the crash and create a record. They also will help direct traffic and restore order.
  • Get medical attention immediately – Many injuries do not immediately manifest symptoms. Muscle and ligament damage can take days or even weeks to begin hurting. If you delay getting treatment, the insurance company may try to argue that your injuries are unrelated to the crash.
  • Do not admit fault or blame in any way – It’s human nature to just say “sorry” after any type of accident. Don’t do that. While it may seem like a kind gesture, an insurance company might construe this statement as an admission of fault.
  • Take pictures of the crash scene and the vehicles involved, if possible – Obviously, if you are seriously injured, you may not be able to do this. Still, if you or someone else can do so, try to get these photos.
  • Get the names, insurance information and contacts for anyone involved, including drivers, passengers and witnesses – The responding police officers typically will collect this information and distribute it to everyone involved in the accident. However, you should get names and numbers on your own – especially witnesses, who may leave shortly after the police arrive.
  • Call an experienced Texas car accident lawyer As soon as you receive medical care and are able to take legal action, call a lawyer and get the quality legal help that you need and deserve.

Our Texas Car Accident Lawyers Want to Help You

Whether you are an innocent motorist, pedestrian or passenger, if you are the victim of a crash involving a vehicle with autopilot features, your case may be more complicated. The insurance company may try to blame the car manufacturer, while the manufacturer will likely blame the driver. The evidence will be difficult to obtain without an experienced Texas car accident attorney who can provide skilled legal representation. Never talk to the insurance company, and never sign anything without discussing it with an attorney first.

The dedicated team of attorneys at Tate Law Offices, P.C., have decades of experience with recovering compensation for injury victims. One phone call can help you to better understand your rights and put you on the right path.  We never take a fee unless we are able to recover compensation for you, and our case evaluations are always free. With multiple offices located throughout Texas, including Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth, we are ready to help you when you need it the most. Contact us today to get started.