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Tesla's "Autopilot" Technology Involved in First Fatal Crash

A May 7 auto accident in Williston, Florida has opened a heated debate about modern auto technology. Joshua Brown was killed when his car went underneath a semi-truck that had turned unexpectedly in front of him.

However, what’s unique about this accident is that Brown was in a Tesla Model S luxury vehicle with its autonomous driving technology, dubbed “Autopilot” by the manufacturer. Brown was reportedly watching a Harry Potter movie in the driver’s seat at the time of the accident.

Tesla has launched a full probe into the incident, investigating the technology to determine if it was indeed at fault for not detecting the sudden obstacle in front of it. In a statement on their corporate website, Tesla stated that “Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”

Should there be a major flaw discovered in the technology, Tesla may be forced to recall thousands of Model S vehicles equipped with the “Autopilot” feature as a safety precaution.

The crash will have ramifications not just for Tesla, but for all vehicle manufacturers who are looking to develop this autonomous operation technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will issue guidelines for research of these autonomous vehicles for the near-future. This is particularly significant for BMW, which has stated that they will introduce a fully-autonomous vehicle by 2021 with the help of newfound business partners, Intel and Mobileye.

Is Tesla Liable for the Accident?

Tesla calls their autonomous operation technology “Autopilot,” which may be misleading for consumers who are treating it as a fully-autonomous system. While the technology can indeed operate the car in traffic without the interference or guidance of an operator, the technology is not perfect or capable of operating in every circumstance.

On a regulatory scale, Tesla’s “Autopilot” technology is rated a Level 2 technology whereas a fully-autonomous vehicle is a Level 4. Essentially this means Telsa’s “Autopilot” is similar to a typical cruise control with the additional ability to control itself.

Ryan Eustice, professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, said "The expectation of Tesla is that the driver is alert and vigilant, ready to take over at a moment's notice. In practice, however, we see that humans quickly become bored and place too much trust in the system. People let down their guard and are not attentive and ready to take over."

If you have been injured in an auto accident, particularly one involving this controversial new “Autopilot” technology, securing the services of a Kansas City personal injury attorney is important to help you review your legal options. Adler & Manson has protected the rights of the injured and has more than 60 combined years’ of legal experience. Their dedication to ethics and quality representation has earned both Jim Adler and Bill Manson the highest possible peer-review rating: an AV® Preeminent™ rating from Martindale-Hubbell®.

To request a free consultation with our skilled team, call our office today at (816) 399-2283.

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