Two Fatal Tesla Accidents Being Investigated by NTSB
In an earlier post we discussed the National Transportation Safety Board’s conclusions following its investigations into two fatal accidents in California and Florida. We have since learned of two additional accidents involving Tesla Motors’ Model S all-electric automobiles. In this post, the car and truck accident lawyer at The Doan Law Firm reviews what is publicly known concerning the recent accidents before offering suggestions to those who may have been injured in similar accidents.
Aside from its ongoing problems with its lithium-ion batteries bursting into flames, Tesla’s Autopilot or autonomous/assisted driving software appears to be suffering from an ongoing difficulty in distinguishing potential roadway safety hazards from harmless roadside objects such as traffic signs.
In the first of two recent accidents, on December 29th of last year the passenger in a 2019 Tesla Model S was killed when the vehicle struck the rear of a fire truck that was parked in the passing lane of I-70 near Terre Haute, Indiana. According to media reports the fire truck, which had been parked in the passing lane after responding to an earlier accident, had its emergency lights operating and was clearly visible for several hundred yards in both directions at the time of the accident. Investigators later determined that the Tesla was being operated by its “Autopilot” feature at the time of the accident. The NTSB is investigating the accident.
Also on December 29th, two people were killed in Gardena, California when a Tesla Model S left a freeway at a high rate of speed before it ran a traffic light and collided with another vehicle, killing both that vehicles occupants. Local investigators are assisted by the NTSB, which is investigating the accident although it has refused to comment on if the Tesla Model S was under the control of its Autopilot system when the crash occurred.
As mentioned earlier, we have previously reported on the results of two earlier NTSB reports involving fatal accidents in California and Florida where the Autopilot system was cited as a factor. The two fatal crashes mentioned above bring to 14 the number of fatal and nonfatal accidents the NTSB has investigated where Tesla’s Autopilot was either known or suspected to have caused or contributed to an accident.
According to our car and truck accident lawyer, the December accidents strongly suggest that 1) Tesla Motors is continuing to experience problems with its Autopilot software package’s difficulty in detecting and identifying roadway dangers and 2) informing vehicle owners of such potential shortcomings and educating owners that the Autopilot feature must be used as a driver-assistive technology rather than an autonomous vehicle technology.
Artificial Intelligence software engineers continue to assure the driving (and non-driving) public that the problem of computer software’s difficulties with distinguishing roadway hazards from other objects are slowly being resolved. While this may prove to be the case at some time in the future, potential future developments cannot be used to justify current limitations of the technology! Thus, Tesla has the moral duty to educate drivers regarding the current capabilities and limitations of the technology. If it can be shown that Tesla either failed to mention these known shortcomings or downplayed their existence to new and/or prospective buyers, it could found to have committed an act of negligence and could be held liable for damages.
At The Doan Law Firm we will continue to watch the news media for developments in these and other cases involving Tesla vehicles and will post such developments as they become available.