NTSB Faults Tesla Autopilot System in Fatal Crash
Even as Congress is moving to clear the way for automakers and tech companies to develop self-driving cars, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has raised a new red flag. According to a report in The New York Times, the safety agency has concluded after a yearlong investigation into a fatal Tesla crash in Florida that the vehicle’s Autopilot system, which was capable of automatically steering and controlling the car had “played a major role” in the Florida crash that killed the driver in May 2016.
Autopilot System Lacked Safeguards
NTSB investigators said the system had performed as intended, but lacked the safeguards to prevent drivers from using it improperly. In the Florida case, the driver was able to use the system on a road for which it wasn’t designed. He turned his attention away from the road for an extended period of time just before the crash. The agency said this tragic accident was the combined effect of human error and the lack of sufficient system controls.
This wasn’t the message that was sent out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which issued its investigative report in January concluding that the Autopilot was not to be blamed for this crash and no recall was necessary. However, NHTSA’s enquiry only focused on the question of whether the Autopilot system was defective. The agency found no flaws and its determination was viewed as a victory for self-driving technology and for Tesla.
How Will Laws Evolve?
The Transportation Department has unveiled voluntary guidelines for testing autonomous vehicles as part of a broader effort on the part of the government to encourage development of self-driving technology. This proposal establishes a voluntary framework of safety guidelines for companies to test driverless cars on public roles.
Under these new guidelines, it’s pretty much up to the automakers and tech companies to decide whether to submit safety reviews to federal regulators. There’s no enforcement here, just guidance. Companies will have no waiting periods to test driverless cars although vehicles remain subject to broader safety rules and standards for equipment and parts.
Putting Safety Before Profit
It is perfectly understandable that corporations can’t wait to put these cars on the road, start selling them and make unprecedented profits. However, it is unacceptable to have technology that has not been property vetted on our roadways. This puts the traveling public in harm’s way and essentially uses humans as guinea pigs to test out a technology we don’t really know much about. As auto defect attorneys who represent the rights of injured victims and their families, we are deeply concerned about this issue. Automakers and tech companies should give careful consideration to the lives they will be affecting. They should put safety before profits. Whether they will do that remains to be seen.