The debate has been raging in legal circles since tech moguls like Elon Musk began predicting the arrival of autonomous cars: Who will be liable for personal or property damage caused by these vehicles? their owners? Manufacturer? Engineers who developed software that failed?
The question remains open as autonomous driving has hit a technological barrier that makes the goal of cars that drive themselves without human supervision seem more distant than they did five years ago. The series of fatal trials Tesla has been conducting since September with an autonomous driving system called Autopilot won’t enter into that substantive debate either. On the contrary, they will analyze whether Elon Musk and his company exceeded the capabilities of their cars, which led to the overestimation of the autonomy of drivers and caused fatal accidents.
The first trial concerns the death of Micah Lee, the driver of a Tesla Model 3 that crashed into a palm tree in Los Angeles at a speed of more than 100 kilometers per hour and burst into flames. The accident happened in 2019 and seriously injured the other two passengers of the car, including an eight-year-old boy.
“Suddenly and without warning, the Tesla Model 3 made a sharp right turn, skidded off the pavement and struck a palm tree at high speed. There were no obstacles in the way,” the lawsuit states. “The late Lee was using the Tesla Model 3 Autopilot system at the time,” he adds.
Lawyers for the car’s occupants accuse Tesla of lying about the car’s autonomous capabilities and concealing that it was faulty. “Autopilot failed due to negligent design, manufacturing, assembly, testing and marketing. In addition, the autopilot did not have an appropriate sensor design, did not have a properly designed central processing unit (…), which prevented it from working correctly in a given collision,” they criticize.
The trial for Lee’s death will begin in the middle of the month. A few weeks later, in October, another trial of the same characteristics will begin, initiated by a lawsuit filed by the wife of Steven Banner, who died in 2019 after her Tesla rolled under an 18-wheeler trailer that was incorporated. Highway.
Banner was driving with the autopilot system engaged, failing to slow down or change direction, causing a collision that tore off the roof of the Tesla and killed the 50-year-old man instantly. The image of the final state of the vehicle is what guides this information.
Tesla accidents involving trailers connected to the Autopilot system have been the most common since the system was introduced. The first death of the driver with this device is activated It was produced in 2016 In the same circumstances as Banner, however, this case did not go to trial. Claims that Tesla’s system fails to detect trucks are repeated after that.
“Full autonomous driving capability”
elDiario.es contacted Tesla twice to try to gather its position on this news, but the manufacturer did not respond to requests. Court documents cited by Reuters reveal that the company is holding drivers responsible for accidents and arguing in front of judges that you should always keep your hands on the wheel. “There are no autonomous cars on the roads today,” the company said.
The announcement comes in stark contrast to what Musk and Tesla have been touting the autonomous capabilities of their cars. The advanced version of Autopilot, available on some models in Spain, is actually called “Total Autonomous Driving Power”. The company pays an additional 7,500 euros for its installation.
This is compounded by Tesla’s claims that its cars are “self-driving” since 2016, when they released a video of one of their cars making a journey that stopped at intersections and red lights, merged onto the highway, and parallel-parked at your destination. “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. What does he do? The car drives itself,” the company assured in a message depicted in a video that has been known to be manipulated this year.
This was admitted in court by the chief engineer of the autopilot development team. “The video was not intended to accurately represent what was available to consumers in 2016. It was a demonstration of what was possible to include in the system. said the person in charge of the system Another case involving an autonomous driving system is being tested.
Tesla and Musk regularly release videos of this style to promote their range of vehicles. The last one was in the month of August, when Musk led 40 minutes with the latest version of Tesla Autopilot, which is not yet available for owners to use. At one point in the recording, which was shared live on X (formerly known as Twitter), the billionaire is forced to intervene to stop a car from running a red light.
“Intervention!” Musk announces as he’s forced to manually brake a car that has clearly missed a traffic light, requiring it to stay in its lane.
Since 2019, there have been 727 accidents and 17 deaths in the US
Musk said in X that the “fully autonomous driving capabilities” system is already twice as safe as human drivers and that they will continue to improve it. However, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) latest report on crashes involving Tesla and its autonomous driving system, released this summer, found that Autopilot was involved in 727 crashes since 2019.
A total of 17 people were killed in these accidents, and five were seriously injured. “Tesla has more serious and fatal crashes than people in the normal data set,” Missy Cummings, a professor at George Mason University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, told The Associated Press. The Washington Postwho had access to the NHTSA account.
The expert revealed that the percentage of deaths in Autopilot accidents is also higher than in other cars. In his view, both situations could be affected by the latest developments in the “full autonomous driving capability” that Tesla is now promoting for urban areas and residential streets.
NHTSA has begun a comprehensive crash collection of vehicles with autonomous driving features activated starting in 2021. their cars.
elDiario.es contacted the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) to inquire about Tesla accidents related to the Autopilot function in Spain, but the agency does not have specific statistics. Sources of the institution also point out that accidents in municipalities are not its field of work. In Spain, however, no manufacturer has authorized drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel or the road at any time while driving.
Source: El Diario