Tesla, Inc., is facing two lawsuits from the survivors of people killed in accidents where the “Autopilot” feature was engaged before the crash. According to Tesla, the Autopilot is merely a driver assistance system and was never meant to operate without driver supervision and input. Even so, the system is supposed to detect everything from pedestrians to large trucks — but sometimes, the system fails.
The most recent lawsuit was brought by the family of a 50-year-old man who was killed in a Florida highway accident in March. According to reports, a semi-truck ran a stop sign and pulled into the path of the Tesla Model 3 sedan. The Tesla driver had turned on the Autopilot system approximately 10 seconds before the car collided with the semi-truck. The driver of the semi has also been named as a defendant.
According to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Autopilot was active at the time of the crash but apparently failed to detect the semi, as it took no evasive maneuvers. Neither did the Tesla’s driver, so he may have been relying completely on the Autopilot system to drive the car.
In 2016, the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in a similar accident. The Autopilot was engaged but failed to take evasive action when a semi appeared in its path.
Last year, an engineer for Apple was killed in a similar accident while driving his Tesla Model X. His family sued Tesla in May.
There have also been reports of Tesla’s autopilot failing to detect pedestrians, leading to tragic consequences.
“We’re not just talking about the consequences of this defect to the … family, which is horrific,” said the Florida family’s lawyer. “These products are defective.”
Far too many car accidents are caused by auto defects
Car crashes are usually avoidable with care and attention. They are often caused by driver error, as in cases of distracted, sleep-deprived or intoxicated driving. In some cases, they can be caused by defects in roadway design or construction. In other cases, they can be the result of vehicle defects.
In the case of Tesla’s Autopilot, it seems that many people do not understand that the system is only meant to assist drivers, not replace them. That could lead people to rely on the system entirely and take their eyes off the road altogether.
Yet it seems the Autopilot is not completely capable of avoiding collisions — or even of detecting large objects like semi-trucks. Although these cases have not been tried, it does appear that Tesla’s Autopilot could be defective.