A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggests that autopilot may not have been fully engaged during the deadly Tesla accident that took place in Harris County last month.
Initial reports stated that there may not have been anyone in the driver’s seat of the Tesla vehicle at the time of the crash.
The New Findings
On the night of April 17, two Harris County residents got into a Tesla vehicle, reportedly to try out the autopilot feature, only to drive off the road, striking a drainage culvert, raised manhole, and finally a tree.
The crash resulted in the vehicle catching fire; a fire that was incredibly difficult to extinguish due to the flammability of the vehicle’s battery. The fire also damaged a module meant to record data on the vehicle’s speed, seat belt usage, and other factors.
Initial reports suggested that the vehicle may have been driverless at the time of the accident, but the new report by the NTSB contradicts that theory. According to the report, Tesla’s autopilot system requires that both the cruise control and automatic steering be engaged in order to function. However, the Autosteer system was not available for the section of the roadway where the accident occurred. This would mean that Autopilot could not have been engaged at the time of the crash.
Furthermore, footage from the home security cameras of the Tesla owner’s home shows the owner getting into the driver’s seat of the vehicle while his passenger sat in the front passenger seat.
This investigation remains underway and information is subject to change. Currently, the NTSB is working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Tesla company, and Harris County authorities to determine how and why the accident happened.
Harris County authorities reported that they are also conducting their own investigation.
The crash has raised questions not only about the safety of autopilot features but also their marketing. Critics argue that the name and marketing of Tesla’s Autopilot features suggest that the system is capable of much more than it can actually do. This implication could lead drivers to develop a false sense of security regarding their Tesla’s abilities.
While the company encourages drivers to be cautious, the “full self-driving” language they use in marketing could be misleading, according to critics.
Are Self-Driving Cars Safer?
For those who report on car accidents, it’s very clear that the biggest factor in most car accidents is driver behavior. From speeding to texting, there are all kinds of things that we do while driving that endanger us.
With that in mind, you might expect self-driving cars to reduce the number of car accidents. Unfortunately, studies have shown that this is unlikely to be the case.
While self-driving cars are great at combating the risks of distracted driving, impaired driving, and low-visibility driving, other types of accidents can still take place. This is largely because of the systems’ inability to make accurate predictions, resulting in things like overcompensation, incorrect evasive maneuvers, and other issues.
So, although self-driving cars may be better than humans at certain things, they still have a long way to go before they can meaningfully improve traffic safety.
If you’ve been injured in a Texas car accident, contact the Houston car accident attorneys of Lapeze & Johns, PLLC, to learn more about seeking compensation.