The federal government has opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s partially automated driving system, commonly called Autopilot, in response to a series of crashes involving parked emergency vehicles.
According to KXAN, the investigation covers roughly 765,000 vehicles, involving nearly all Tesla vehicles sold in the United States since the launch of the company’s 2014 model year vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims to have identified 11 crashes since 2011 in which Tesla vehicles operating on Autopilot or Traffic-Aware Cruise Control have hit vehicles at scenes where first responders have used emergency indicators, including flashing lights, flares, illuminated arrow boards, or cones. The crashes have resulted in 17 people being injured and at least one death.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has taken part in some of the Tesla crash investigations, recommended that NHTSA and Tesla limit Autopilot’s use to areas where it can operate without risk. Additionally, the NTSB is calling for NHTSA to require Tesla to improve systems dedicated to ensuring that drivers are paying attention, even when the vehicle is in Autopilot mode.
Autopilot has been a point of contention among regulators as Tesla drivers frequently misuse the feature. This includes drunk drivers using Autopilot while behind the wheel and drivers leaving the driver seat in order to ride in the passenger seat or backseat while the vehicles are in Autopilot mode.
Ince June 2016, NHTSA has investigated 31 crashes involving partially automated driver-assist systems. 25 of those involved Tesla Autopilot with those resulting in 10 deaths.
Crashes with emergency vehicles and first responders have occurred in Culver City, California; Laguna Beach, California; Norwalk, Connecticut; Cloverdale, Indiana; West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; Cochise County, Arizona; Charlotte, North Carolina, Montgomery County, Texas; Lansing, Michigan; and Miami, Florida.
Questions concerning the regulation of Tesla Autopilot and possible company liability in accidents are nothing new. While Tesla and other manufacturers urge drivers to remain ready to intervene when using driver-assist systems, there is concern that drivers may be lulled into a false sense of security or an unsafe expectation about what the systems are capable of.
While automakers including Tesla have pushed against additional regulation, NHTSA says it does have “robust enforcement tools” with which to protect the public. The agency added it will act when if finds evidence “of noncompliance on an unreasonable risk to safety.”
For example, NHTSA investigations can result in recalls and other enforcement actions.
NHTSA reminder drivers “no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves” and that “Every available vehicle requires a human driver to be in control at all times, and all state laws hold human drivers responsible for operation of their vehicles.”
NHTSA investigation of Tesla Autopilot involves the following vehicles:
If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash with a Tesla vehicle or involved in an accident while using Tesla Autopilot, contact Thomas J. Henry Law. Our Texas car accident attorneys have the experience and resources to handle your claim aggressively and effectively.
Our firm has offices in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Austin serving clients across Texas and nationwide. Call us today for a free case review — attorneys are available 24/7, nights and weekends. If you cannot make it to our office, we can visit you at your home, in the hospital, or at work.
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