Autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technology has been making waves in the auto industry for a few years. From self-driving Ubers to self-driving commercial semi-trucks, many different companies are developing all types of vehicles with various features that eliminate the need for human operation. Not all self-driving cars are fully autonomous, however, as some vehicles have technologies that release human responsibility to varying degrees. One particular semi-autonomous vehicle has recently been in the news due to serious crashes while using the technology.
Tesla Under Investigation
Two models of Tesla—the Model S and the Model X—are under investigation due to two separate crashes that occurred while the “autopilot” feature was engaged. Contrary to what you may believe, the autopilot feature is not fully autonomous and does not let a driver completely off the hook.
One crash that is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) involved a Tesla Model S and happened in May. In that accident, the 28-year-old driver admits to having autopilot engaged at 60 miles per hour and to having her hands removed from the wheel while looking at her phone. Her car crashed into the back of a fire truck and despite extreme damage to the vehicle, the driver suffered only a broken ankle.
The National Transportation Safety Board is reviewing a crash involving a Tesla Model X that ended significantly more tragically. That vehicle crashed into a highway barrier and caught fire and the driver did not survive. Data from the vehicle shows that autopilot was engaged and the driver did not have his hands on the wheel for six seconds before the crash. There was also no signs of braking before the crash and the Tesla had sped up from 62 miles per hour to over 70 miles per hour before hitting the barrier.
While the term autopilot may seem to suggest that it relieves drivers of their duties, Tesla claims that it makes it clear that drivers are expected to keep their hands on the steering wheel to ensure they maintain control of their vehicles even when the technology is engaged.
The vehicle handles many aspects—but not all—of driving and drivers still need to remain alert and avoid distractions.
Tesla has repeatedly stated that crashes involving autopilot were not caused by the technology and that, in fact, the technology reduces the chances of an accident and injuries happening. The company claims that drivers use the autopilot feature in a reckless manner and that is the cause of these crashes. The final results of the respective investigations are pending.
Self-Driving Vehicles: Safer or Not?
With self-driving cars becoming a reality, it is important to examine whether this technological development is really as safe as companies claim. Companies state that completely autonomous vehicles eliminate the possibility of human error and, therefore, should drastically reduce the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities suffered on the roads each year in the United States. The idea of huge tractor-trailers essentially driving themselves may be a frightening one—but is it actually safer than human truck drivers?
While the majority of motorists still say they are too afraid to ride in a self-driving car, companies point out that there is no risk of distracted drivers, drunk drivers, or drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. Instead, the cars function based on objective data processed by a high-speed computer, which then responds accordingly to a wide range of environmental factors, including other vehicles, traffic signals and signs, pedestrians, and more. Because estimates indicate that human errors cause 94 percent of crashes, you would assume that eliminating human judgment would increase safety.
Accidents Still Happen
A number of crashes have happened involving self-driving vehicles in addition to the Tesla accidents. Some accidents involved other motorists hitting the back of a self-driving car that suddenly reacted to something and slowed down or stopped unexpectedly. One self-driving Uber collided with a woman crossing the street and she did not survive. The car showed no signs of braking before hitting the pedestrian at 38 miles per hour.
Self-driving cars still have human safety drivers and often, those drivers take semi-autonomous or autonomous technology for granted. In the case of the Uber hitting the pedestrian, video footage shows the safety driver looking away from the road before the tragic accident happened. In many cases, accidents may be prevented if humans do not overestimate the abilities of self-driving vehicles and continue to pay attention to the road, even if they do not have all of the responsibilities they have in regular cars
The question is: Who is responsible for accidents involving self-driving cars? First, if the autonomous technology causes a crash, the car manufacturer that created the defective or otherwise unsafe technology should be held accountable. If another driver causes an accident with a self-driving vehicle, it should be examined whether the driver was at fault or whether the autonomous vehicle made a maneuver that resulted in the collision.
In any event, self-driving technology is a new frontier when it comes to car accident legal claims. However, if you suffered injuries in a crash with a self-driving car, you may be entitled to compensation for all of your losses, including medical bills, pain and suffering, lost income, and more. Whether you suffered a broken bone or tragically lost a loved one in a self-driving car crash, you should always discuss the possibility of a legal claim with an attorney who is knowledgeable about auto innovations and new technologies, who can assess your rights.
Learn How Our Chicago Car Accident Lawyers Can Assist You
The lawyers at the Chicago office of Abels & Annes, P.C., stay up to date on all new technology in order to best help clients injured in unexpected ways. Whether you were injured in a crash involving a self-driving car, a regular car, a large commercial truck, or any other type of vehicle, our attorneys are here to help you. Call (312) 924-7575 or contact us online for a free consultation today so we can advise you of your options.