Tesla’s controversial Autopilot feature has been involved in countless accidents since 2016, including fatal crashes in China, Japan, Norway, and the United States. Although Autopilot use remains unconfirmed in some incidents, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has named Autopilot as a contributing factor in fatal accidents in Mountain View, California and Delray Beach, Florida.
More recently, local authorities in Harris County have been investigating a deadly Tesla crash in the Houston area, in which Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims Autopilot was not enabled. The NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are also investigating the accident. Initial reports reflect there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash.
Controversy After Controversy
Just this week, a Tesla vehicle on Autopilot also crashed into a parked patrol vehicle in Snohomish County, Washington. Data from Consumer Reports (CR) suggests that Tesla’s Autopilot feature can easily activate without anyone in the driver’s seat, creating dangers for everyone on the road. According to CR:
“Tesla is falling behind other automakers like GM and Ford that, on models with advanced driver assist systems, use technology to make sure the driver is looking at the road.”
Time and time again, drivers are also misled by Tesla’s marketing, as terms like “Autopilot” and phrases like “full potential for autonomous driving” suggest drivers do not have to be attentive – or even behind the wheel – while operating their Teslas.
Although a German court has banned Tesla’s questionable advertising tactics, the United States has not yet stepped in to regulate Tesla’s autonomous car technology, nor the company’s marketing.
Can Robots Cause Accidents?
Self-driving cars are still a long way from being approved for use on the open road, so right now, even cars with driver-assist features need to be operated by human drivers. If a driver fails to pay attention while using Autopilot, the responsibility falls on the driver – whether they are behind the wheel (like they should be) or not.
Are Teslas Defective?
Nevertheless, Tesla could face liability for creating defective products. If Autopilot malfunctions or doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, the vehicle itself could be designed or manufactured poorly. For example, consider a situation in which Autopilot pulls the wheel to the wrong side and causes a car accident by interfering with the driver’s actions.
Similarly, Tesla could face liability for marketing defects, especially if the drivers in question genuinely believe they are buying an autonomous vehicle. An instance of this kind of case would be a driver who crashed without their hands on the wheel because they saw an advertisement where Elon Musk did the same thing and didn't crash.
Tesla has already been sued for wrongful death due to issues with its Autopilot technology and a lack of safeguards on its vehicles. The NHTSA also had to send out a cease-and-desist letter, ordering Tesla to stop referring to its Model 3 electric sedan as “the safest car ever built” or tested by the government.
Teslas may look like the cars of the future, but the company has been mired by controversy, and more and more stories have linked Tesla and its Autopilot technology to serious accidents.
While the laws surrounding Tesla and autonomous technologies are still emerging, consumers who have been harmed by Tesla are likely protected by existing product liability laws.
If you or someone you know has been harmed in a Tesla accident involving Autopilot, speak to an attorney at Lauri J. Goldstein & Associates, PLLC about your legal options.
Our dedicated, hardworking team is available 24/7 to answer your questions and address your concerns – simply call us at (866) 675-4427 or contact us online to discuss your case during a free consultation.