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Fatal Tesla Crash Highlights Risks of Self-Driving Cars

The fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S highlights the risks associated with self-driving cars. The vehicle was in “auto-pilot” when it slammed into a tractor-trailer, killing a 40-year-old Florida man.

While driverless cars hold a lot of promise, there are still many legal, regulatory, and safety concerns that must be addressed before we can all retire from “driving.” As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, California allows autonomous vehicles on its roadways for testing purposes. Under state regulations, operators of autonomous vehicles must undergo special training and be capable of taking over control in the case of an emergency. Car makers are required to report any type of accident or any situation where the autonomous technology disengages during operation

In its latest report, Google reported that it experienced 341 significant disengagement events over 424,000 miles of driving on California roadways. In 69 of the incidents, the driver was forced to take control of the car in order to avoid colliding with another vehicle or other object. Notably, the autonomous cars had difficulty detecting pedestrians, traffic lights, bicyclists, low-hanging branches, and the proximity of parked vehicles. The report confirms that many safety risks still exist for self-driving vehicles.

According to the initial investigation of the Tesla crash, Joshua Brown’s Model S went underneath the trailer of a truck that had turned left in front of the vehicle. Tesla published a blog post stating that that "neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied."

The fatal crash highlights that while many auto manufacturers are working to incorporate self-driving aids into new vehicles, the technology is still in its infancy. While Tesla noted that autopilot "is new technology and still in a public beta phase,” the feature is currently available on 25,000 Tesla Motors Model S cars. As a result, there are risks to drivers as well as everyone else who shares the road with these vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation and could order a recall if its deems the Model S unsafe. In its initial report, the agency stated that the crash "calls for an examination of the design and performance of any driving aids in use at the time of the crash."

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a dangerous or defective motor vehicle, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.