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Tesla’s Autopilot program is an advanced driver assistance system. As one of Tesla’s most popular features, it is intended to enhance safety and convenience behind the wheel with the following tools:
- Traffic-aware cruise control: Adjusts the speed of the Tesla to that of the surrounding traffic
- Autosteer: Assists in steering within a clearly marked lane with the use of traffic-aware cruise control
When drivers engage Tesla Autopilot, the car can steer, accelerate, and brake automatically within its lane. While Autopilot does not make the vehicle a fully autonomous, self-driving vehicle, it does take on many driving responsibilities on behalf of the driver.
However, despite the autonomous capabilities of Autopilot, drivers must remain as alert and vigilant as they would if they were not driving in Autopilot. This includes keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
According to Tesla’s website, Autopilot uses an extensive neural network that engages cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and radar to monitor the area around the vehicle. The sensor and camera suite provides drivers with an awareness of their surroundings and is intended to make driving safer and less stressful.
Since Autopilot does not technically make a car fully autonomous, there is less oversight on how Tesla tests and produces vehicles with this software. Autopilot is considered an advanced driver-assistance system and therefore must only meet broad federal safety requirements similar to other vehicles on the market.
However, victims of Tesla Autopilot crashes are now coming forward, leading to investigations, lawsuits, and potentially more oversight.
The first known Tesla Autopilot death occurred in May of 2016. Joshua Brown engaged Autopilot mode while driving his Model S, and the sensor system failed to track a white 18-wheel semi-truck. Autopilot mode should have prevented Brown from crashing into the truck. However, Brown’s Tesla could not distinguish the truck in direct sunlight and hit the semi at full speed.
Another accident involved a Tesla Model S that exited a freeway in California at high speed, ran a red light, and struck another vehicle, killing two people inside. Another passenger died when a different Tesla Model 3 hit a parked fire truck on an Indiana freeway.
In 2018, Walter Huang’s Tesla Model X was in Autopilot mode and struck a safety barrier at 70 miles per hour. Officials later discovered that Huang had been playing a video game on his smartphone at the time of the crash. Huang, an Apple engineer, had previously complained about a flaw in the Autopilot software.
Since 106, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched investigations into 13 different Tesla crashes. The NHTSA believes Autopilot was engaged in all of these crashes and could have been a factor in the resulting accidents. Safety officials have serious questions regarding the actual safety of Autopilot and whether or not Tesla is doing enough to keep drivers aware and safe.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, has been criticized for not adequately warning drivers to remain fully aware while using Autopilot mode. In fact, the company has shifted blame to drivers for relying too much on the driver assistance program rather than acknowledging its role in the injuries and deaths caused by Tesla Autopilot crashes.
According to Consumer Reports, Tesla’s Autopilot navigation performance is inconsistent. While engaging Autopilot mode on a test drive, the driver noted that the Tesla ignored exit ramps on the set route, drove in the carpool lane, and stayed in passing lanes for long periods of time. At other times, the feature would completely disengage for no obvious reason.
As a result of its test drive and the serious safety concerns found, Consumer Reports even called on Tesla to deactivate Autopilot altogether to overhaul it and make it safer.
Tesla maintains that drivers are safer using Autopilot than other cars and user error is at least partially to blame for Autopilot crashes. However, the fact remains that with Autopilot technology, Tesla has a duty to keep not only Tesla drivers safe but all other drivers on the road safe.
Tesla’s Autopilot system warns drivers that they still need to maintain control of the vehicle at all times. However, this warning hasn’t been enough to prevent several Autopilot crashes over the years.
All Teslas manufactured in 2020 or later offer Autopilot:
- Tesla Model 3
- Tesla Model S
- Tesla Model X
- Tesla Model Y
Teslas manufactured before September 2014 do not have Autopilot capabilities. However, Teslas manufactured after this time have the ability to upgrade their software to add Autopilot mode.
Despite Tesla’s reassurances that Autopilot is safe to use, there are many conditions that can affect Tesla’s Autopilot capabilities and cause malfunctions to occur:
- Poor visibility from inclement weather
- Bright lights (harsh sunlight, oncoming headlights, etc.)
- Obstruction from excessive paint or adhesive products
- Winding roads
- Misaligned bumpers
- Extremely cold or hot temperatures
Car accidents happen daily. However, crashes that occur as a result of a Tesla Autopilot malfunction are all the more tragic because they could have been prevented. Tesla’s refusal to take responsibility for these crashes shows that it is a company that chooses to put profits before driver safety.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a defective Tesla Autopilot system, know you have options. Contact an experienced Tesla Autopilot crash lawyer immediately.
The Ernst Law Group’s personal injury lawyers can represent you and advocate for your rights. Our firm has a reputation for aggressively seeking justice on behalf of our clients and has won hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients in damages.
Our experienced trial lawyers are not afraid to hold large companies like Tesla accountable for their negligence. Call us today at (805) 549-4357 to schedule a risk-free case evaluation for your Tesla Autopilot accident. We look forward to speaking with you.
Ernst Law Group is a California law firm specializing in product liability. If your Tesla has resulted in an autopilot crash or caught fire due to lithium battery defects, we’ll help you hold the manufacturer accountable for producing and distributing unsafe or defective vehicles
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