Traffic surprises may fool even self-driving cars

Human reflexes may not be as fast as a machine’s, at least according to advocates of self-driving Tesla vehicles. However, a recent motor vehicle accident has revealed a potential vulnerability in the automated car’s software.

According to a preliminary investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Tesla Model S electric sedan was in self-driving mode without any evidence of braking at the time it crashed into a tractor-trailer. A Tesla spokesperson noted that the tractor-trailer had crossed a divided highway to make a left turn in front of the Tesla. The car’s Autopilot apparently did not pick up the white side of the truck against the sky, so it did not apply the brakes. It is not yet known whether the crash victim’s surviving loved ones will pursue a lawsuit against Tesla, possibly involving a product liability and/or wrongful death claim.

This is the first known fatal accident involving a Tesla vehicle where the self-driving software was activated. Tesla also emphasized the lower fatality rate of its vehicles with the Autopilot software engaged. The average fatal crash rate in the United States among all motor vehicles is 94 million miles, compared with Tesla’s record of just one known fatality in over 130 million miles.

Sudden traffic movements may require a driver’s full attention to respond safely. This story demonstrates that other drivers’ actions may even take autopilot software by surprise. Consequently, it should be no surprise to learn that negligent behaviors like texting and driving, getting behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol or drugs or fatigue, or any number of other distractions or impairments might result in serious injuries. If you have been injured in an accident, you want an attorney with experience in personal injury law to protect your rights.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Westmoreland County native killed in crash of self-driving Tesla,” Karen Kane, July 1, 2016