A Massachusetts man driving a Tesla with the autopilot engaged was involved in an accident with a police car is now facing negligent driving charges. His defense is that the autopilot system installed on his Tesla malfunctioned or at least failed to either warn him of the impending crash or failed to take steps to avoid the accident.
The accident occurred in West Bridgewater on Route 24. The police officer had just pulled over a motorist and was asking for her vehicle documents when the Tesla slammed into the officer’s SUV, which in turn collided with the pulled over vehicle. The officer narrowly missed suffering serious injuries while the motorist was covered with shattered glass. Neither suffered serious injuries.
The police officer claimed that the Tesla motorist admitted that he was not paying attention. Although Tesla has an autopilot feature in its vehicles, a Tesla spokesperson commented that it is not a license for motorists to ignore what is going on around them.
Other Tesla Accidents Despite Autopilot Feature
While autonomous or driverless cars may become ubiquitous sometime in the not-too-distant future, that time is not yet here. Although driverless cars can be seen navigating some city streets in various parts of the country, they are required to have a driver in position to take control in case of an emergency.
Tesla’s vehicles have had several accidents involving its autopilot. There were two incidents in 2018 where vehicles in separate accidents crashed into parked fire trucks, and another in 2019 that also involved a parked police car that was struck by a Tesla. There were two separate fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019 when Teslas struck tractor trailers, killing the motorists. In both of those incidents, the trucks were crossing in front of the cars that failed to either brake or avoid the trucks.
Tesla’s autopilot has a feature where the vehicle’s speed is compared to other vehicles on the roadway by radar. The system, however, evidently fails to detect stationary vehicles in its path. It is unknown why the autopilot failed to detect the crossing tractor trailers that led to the two fatalities – or the police vehicle in the West Bridgewater, Massachusetts collision.
Auto safety advocates have criticized Tesla for even calling its system “autopilot,” since that necessarily implies that the driver can fully trust the system to safely navigate in traffic, and to recognize and avoid hazards such as parked cars in or near its lane of traffic or traffic crossing in front of it. One safety advocate bemoaned that Tesla is using ordinary drivers to test its system while abdicating any responsibility for accidents caused while its system was being utilized.
Is the Driver Still Responsible?
While the driver is fortunate that no one suffered serious injuries in the West Bridgewater accident, his blaming Tesla will likely fall on deaf ears, at least for now. Relying totally on an autopilot system, regardless of its name that may imply total autonomy, is probably unreasonable since no vehicle manufacturer has claimed its vehicles are totally self-driving. While the news reports of this accident are limited as to what warnings about its autopilot feature are in its driver’s manual, it seems unlikely that Tesla neglected to print a warning that drivers should still be cautious, not distracted, and ready to take immediate control of the vehicle in an emergency. It also did not help that the driver allegedly admitted that he was not paying attention.
Until the autopilot feature is fully functional or autonomous, having been tested and accepted by federal regulatory agencies for safety and adaptability to all foreseeable incidents and road hazards, and manufacturers like Tesla claim that its autopilot feature can perform as advertised, then motorists take full responsibility for any accidents they cause.
However, there are currently product liability lawsuits against Tesla alleging that its autopilot system is flawed and unsafe and should never have been advertised as safe in any form. One suit concerns a pedestrian killed in Japan. The motorist in that case was behind the wheel but allegedly failed to take evasive action when the pedestrian who was attending to his incapacitated car on the shoulder suddenly appeared on the edge of the roadway. The Tesla allegedly had accelerated seconds before the accident in responding to a car in front of it that had suddenly changed traffic lanes.
The lawsuit also alleges that drivers are lulled into complacency by not driving, and that the system’s driver detection system is flawed for its failure to alert the driver about inattentiveness, or by not taking automatic evasive action such as braking. It remains to be seen whether the trier of fact will find Tesla at fault. If so, then Tesla may face a number of lawsuits for fatalities or serious injuries for its defective autopilot feature.
Victims of motor vehicle accidents involving Tesla and the reliability and utility of its autopilot system may want to carefully follow the various lawsuits pending against Tesla. In serious and fatal car accidents, having Tesla as a party may substantially increase the available compensation to injured parties.
Damages in Car Accident Claims
Damages in any car accident claim depend on the nature and extent of the claimant’s injuries and how the person’s injuries have impacted his or her life. Only an experienced car accident lawyer can fully document and prove damages in such cases. Damages in many cases include:
- Past and future income loss
- Past and future medical expenses
- Permanent disfigurement and scarring
- Emotional distress
- Permanent disability
- Diminished quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages if a fatality
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
By retaining a highly experienced car accident lawyer, you can be assured of having the best opportunity for a reasonable settlement or resolution of your injury claim.
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