Blog of Charles Bryan Alred
Tesla Autopilot, Distracted Driving Blamed in Fatal Accident
Posted on March 12, 2020
Two years after a fatal crash involving an automated Tesla SUV, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released the results of its investigation into the causes and contributing factors behind the incident.
According to a February 25, 2020 article published by AP News, both technology and human factors were to blame when the vehicle slammed into a concrete barrier, killing the driver.
First, Tesla’s automated driving system was operating under conditions it was unable to handle.
In its review, NTSB found that the Model X SUV Autopilot feature steered the vehicle toward the left and into a paved area near an exit ramp. It then accelerated to more than 70 miles per hour before slamming into a concrete wall. The SUV’s forward collision avoidance system did not issue an alert and the emergency brakes did not deploy. Officials stated that a combination of factors was behind these technology failures, including faded lane markings and sunshine that interferes with the Autopilot cameras.
However, any of the technology defects could easily have been overcome through interaction from the driver, which is where the human element entered the picture.
According to NTSB, the deceased victim was playing a game on his cell phone when the fatal accident occurred. Distracted driving is the likely reason behind the man’s failure to apply the brakes or steer away to avoid the concrete barrier.
Charles Bryan Alred, founding partner at Charles Bryan Alred, PC in Tulsa, OK, weighed in on the topic of distracted driving and automated driving systems.
“Engaging your car’s autopilot doesn’t give drivers carte blanche to do whatever they want behind the wheel. Technology will never fully replace human interaction and the manual tasks that are required to safely operate a vehicle. These systems can’t operate themselves, yet people continue to engage in distracted driving when they put autopilot in control.”
NTSB issued several recommendations to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.
Officials suggested that manufacturers of smartphones and other portable devices include safeguards, so they will not function when within reach of a driver. They also repeated two recommendations previously directed at Tesla:
- The company should implement technology that will prevent the Autopilot feature from functioning in inappropriate conditions; and,
- The auto maker should develop more effective technology to ensure the is not engaging in dangerous distracted driving.
Mr. Alred agreed with the proposals, but expressed doubts.
“The problem of distracted driving in automated vehicles will continue to be a problem until these suggestions actually become law. NTSB only has the power to investigate, issue findings, and make recommendations. Government action is crucial.
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