The automated driving / "driverless vehicle" industry in general,
and its bright and shining star Tesla in particular, have been having
a rough go of it in the media. It is thus understandable that any "good"
news will be highly publicized and the "bad" news ignored or
at least downplayed.
In one of our
previous posts we briefly questioned Tesla's interpretation of a puzzling statement
made by the
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NTSB) claiming that Tesla's highly-touted "Autopilot/Autosteer" automated driving system had reduced accident rates by an astounding
40% when compared to Tesla vehicles
without that package. In this post, the automobile accident injury lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm will explain why we think this claim is not supported by fact.
Issues with the safety reports
The NHTSA "report" cited by Tesla in its
3Q 2018 Vehicle Safety Report was, in actuality, the findings of a
NHTSA investigation into a fatal accident in May, 2016 involving a Tesla S Model. In that
accident, the driver was killed when the vehicle's Autopilot system
failed to detect a tractor-trailer rig that was entering the highway from
a side road.
That report "cleared" Tesla on the grounds that Tesla's Autopilot/Autosteer system
was not designed to detect vehicles that were approaching from the side. The NHTSA did
offer mild criticism in that it suggested that Tesla stress to potential
buyers that Autopilot
was not a driverless technology and that drivers were still required to be alert
and non-distracted when Autopilot was engaged. Tesla, of course, pounced
on the "not guilty" and "40%" parts and ignored the rest.
Things seemed to be going in Tesla's favor until someone did the unthinkable:
they asked to see the data the NHTSA used to arrive at its "40%"
conclusion! Care to take a guess at what happened to that request?
When R.A. Whitfield of the
Quality Control Systems Corporation asked for a copy of that data, he encountered nothing but "red tape"
and a "go away and leave us alone" attitude from the NHTSA.
Whitfield did go away, but only long enough to file a
Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the NHTSA. The NHTSA lost and, about
one and a half-years later, Whitfield received his data.
Quality Control Systems conducted its own analysis of the NHTSA data and
independent report that, to be diplomatic, found the NHTSA's data collection and statistical
analysis techniques were so flawed as to be incapable of supporting
any conclusions, much less its "40% safer" claim regarding Tesla'
Autopilot/Autosteer package. For a more detailed (and mostly
non-technical discussion of the Quality Control report, please follow the link given
earlier in this paragraph.
Questionable areas of the reports
We would like to propose five questions that we feel must be answered:
- Since one of its main purposes is to compile statistics, why didn't
the NHTSB recognize that its "40%" analysis was based on "bad"
data as alleged by Quality Control Systems?
- By extension, who at NHTSA allowed the publication of data that appears
to have statistically flawed?
- Why did the NHTSA feel it necessary to include the "40% reduction
statement" when that comment was immaterial to the task of determining
if Tesla's Autopilot/Autosteer was defective and, at least, partially
responsible for the accident?
Who wanted to conveniently place the "40% reduction statement" inside
an accident investigation report? Tesla? The NHTSA? Someone else?
Of the eventual answers to the above questions, the possible answers to
#5 are the most disturbing.
A month ago, we would have dismissed any suggestion that a government agency
would bend and/or break its own rules for the financial benefit of an
international corporation that it was supposedly regulating to be nothing
more than another off-the-wall conspiracy theory. Until the
Boeing/FAA collusion hit the news, that is.
So far, and to the best of our knowledge, the only
defense of Tesla's 3Q 2018 Vehicle Safety Report (other than Tesla's,
of course) comes from the websites of
Teslarati.com. Since both sites are unashamedly pro-Tesla, we leave the question of
their "possible bias" (along with several large grains of salt)
to the reader.
What to take away from these issues
As we have stated, we are not accusing Tesla, the NHTSA or anyone else of
deliberately misleading the public. We are simply stating that consumers cannot make
an informed purchasing decision based on information that is, basically,
nothing more than a sales pitch wrapped in statistics that no one understands.
As a national personal injury law practice, we at
The Doan Law Firm will be closely following developments in the automated driving industry
in order to provide our clients with superior legal representation in
their personal injury cases.