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Tesla Autopilot Car Accidents: Who’s to Blame?

by | Jul 29, 2023 | Law News

“A failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” – Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors.

Did the innovation of the Autopilot feature of Tesla Motors really fail? That’s the question of the Tesla fans right now.


Tesla was launched on July 1st, 2003, by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in San Carlos, California, after General Motors recalled all its EV1 electric cars.

Do all Tesla’s have Autopilot feature?

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In the United States, around 765,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with an autopilot feature. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, publicly discussed the Tesla Autopilot system in 2013. Going through a series of hardware and software updates, the brand launched the “beta” version of its Full Self-Driving software in the U.S. in October 2020 to EAP testers.

How safe is Tesla’s Autopilot?

Let’s have a dissection of the hot queries about Tesla Autopilot car accidents trending in the U.S. right now.

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On August 15th, 2022, Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk announced that the company surpassed the milestone of producing 3 million vehicles. Till now, over 40 million miles have already been driven by Tesla vehicles, and the company anticipates reaching 100 million miles by the end of this year.

Tesla Autopilot System

Tesla’s Autopilot feature claims to drive the future of autonomy of current and new generations of vehicles. The brand calls the autopilot system the ‘Future of Driving’. The benefits of Tesla Autopilot features are as follows.

Navigate on Autopilot proposes changing lanes. It will also drive your car in the direction of highway exits and interchanges based on your destination.

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With its sophisticated cameras, sensors, and technology, Autosteer helps Tesla navigate narrower, trickier roadways.

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Smart Summon

With Smart Summon, owners can avoid getting in or out of the car in a confined space and call their Tesla to them.

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According to the manufacturer, these characteristics lessen collisions brought on by driver error and exhaustion from extended driving.

Does Autopilot Feature Demand a Driver?

Many people commonly doubt this when they come across the term ‘Autopilot’. The answer is YES. The Autopilot feature does not mean the driver can take his hands from the steering. However, auto experts criticize that the brand is misleading the public with the word ‘autopilot’, making many think that the car does not require driver supervision at all. It is indicated as one of the major causes of the Tesla Autopilot accidents.

In 2020, a regional court in Munich, Germany, ruled against Tesla, claiming that the company was misleading the customers with its marketing usage related to Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) capability. On August 15th, 2022, through an appeal, Tesla won the lawsuit filed by the Wettbewerbszentrale, financed by Tesla competitors. The German court had reversed the lower court ruling against Tesla, permitting Autopilot marketing.

Reports suggest that some Tesla drivers are caught misusing the autopilot feature by driving drunk or even riding in the back seat. Some individuals have given wrong messages to the public by posting videos on social media featuring their Tesla going themselves when sleeping in the backseat. However, the brand has clearly mentioned on the website that the ‘current autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.’

Tesla’s Autopilot is classified as Level 2 of the SAE’s (Society of Automotive Engineers) six levels of vehicle automation. It indicates that the car can drive itself at this level, but the driver still needs to keep an eye on the road and be prepared to take control at any moment. The Tesla owner’s manual advises against using Autopilot on city streets or highways with unpredictable traffic patterns.

What Makes Tesla Autopilot Feature a Hot Topic of Discussion?

How many fatal accidents has Tesla had? The answer to this query will let you understand why the autopilot feature of Tesla is blamed. nhtsa-report-on-tesla-autopilot-car-accidents

As per the latest survey of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA), out of the 392 crashes involving advanced driver-assistance systems reported since July 2021, 273 crashes involved Tesla Autopilot vehicles. That means an alarming 70%!! Before we come to a blind conclusion, let’s hear Steven Cliff, the NHTSA administrator. “I would advise caution before attempting to draw conclusions based only on the data that we’re releasing. In fact, the data alone may raise more questions than they answer”. The officials had stated that the data is incomplete and are not putting the blame on the Tesla Autopilot feature.

What’s Going on Around Tesla?

Consumer Reports scored Tesla Autopilot #1 in the “Capabilities and Performance” and “Ease of Use” categories in October 2020 but described it as “a distant second” in the driver assistance systems category. Looking into the hiking Tesla models’ fatal accidents involving the Autopilot feature, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features as providing autonomous vehicles’ control. The DMV requests redress, which may entail ordering Tesla to pay drivers’ restitution and suspending the company’s right to sell cars in California. California being Tesla’s largest U.S. market, we have to wait and watch the brand’s destiny in California.

When Tesla is all set to release the next version of its FSD software, version 10.69, on August 20th, 2022, Ralph Nader, a political and consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, issued a statement. He had referred to Tesla’s “so-called” full self-driving (FSD) technology as “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades.”

“This nation should not allow this malfunctioning software which Tesla itself warns may do the ‘wrong thing at the worst time’ on the same streets where children walk to school,” wrote Nader. “Together, we need to send an urgent message to the casualty-minded regulators that Americans must not be test dummies for a powerful, high-profile corporation and its celebrity CEO. No one is above the laws of manslaughter.”- says Nader, the author of ‘Unsafe at Any Speed.’

Why are Critics After Tesla?

Last week of July 2022, a Tesla driver in Draper, Utah, smashed into the back of a motorcycle, killing the rider. It is the most recent Tesla Autopilot car accident and is under the investigation of NHTSA. The driver was using the Autopilot system at the time of the crash.

The case is added to NHTSA’s Special Crash Investigations (SCI) list. The SCI report says that, as of July 26th, there are 48 crashes under the investigation list, of which 39 cases involve Tesla vehicles. The SCI also indicates that 19 individuals had been victimized in those Tesla Autopilot car crashes. The report had added fuel to the fire syncing with the latest survey of NHTSA.

The most considerable criticism against Tesla is Elon Musk’s aggressiveness in his self-driving goals. The idea of the Autopilot feature was conceived in 2013 and the first Autopilot software launched was in October 2015. Was that a speedy launch? Did Tesla go through all the risks of the software and hardware of their autopilot cars?

While most automakers are researching to make vehicle automation safer, Elon Musk is aiming to offer a Level 4 system just in months. That is another major disapproval by the experts. Dreaming high is never a sin, but the critics say Tesla is rushing towards it.

The user manual of Tesla Autopilot states that the vehicle may not detect stationary vehicles; “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control cannot detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 50 mph (80 km/h), and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object is in front of you instead”. It has also raised numerous arguments and discussions about the safety and reliability of the feature.

Every three months, Tesla publishes a safety report. The critics point out that the manufacturer fails to mention where most of the driving occurs and how it compares in various driving situations.

Apart from these, the drivers of the Tesla Autopilot had cited some risky behaviors of the feature. They are as follows

  • Phantom braking
  • Lane drifting
  • Failing to stop for traffic dangers
  • Sudden software shutdowns
  • Collisions with off-ramp barriers
  • Radar malfunctions
  • Unforeseen swerving
  • Uneven speed changes

How General Motors Strike While the Iron is Hot?

General Motors is racing at the right speed utilizing the situation to make the customers switch to their hands-free advanced driver-assist system. Taking advantage of the setback of the Tesla Autopilot car accidents, the brand is planning to double the coverage area of Super Cruise to 400,000 miles of highways and routes in 2022.

The brand has created educational campaigns and stories in the media to help the customers understand their vehicle.

We do need to help people understand — and it’s very clear from General Motors perspective — that Super Cruise is not a fully functioning autonomous vehicle, [and] that the driver is still expected to command control of their vehicle,” he said. “We’re very, very clear about what is fully autonomous and what is the responsibility of the driver.” “We don’t want to be a laggard in history,” “We want to be first, but we want to be the safest company out there,” says Jason Fischer, chief engineer of autonomous vehicles at G.M.,

What does Tesla Say?

  • Tesla makes no claims that with its autopilot feature, drivers need not pay attention in driving.
  • The company had given numerous alerts and warnings, demanding drivers to be vigilant.
  • The brand warns that the driver is solely responsible for the Tesla Autopilot cars.
  • The manufacturer says the driver should take over the vehicle from Autopilot whenever necessary.

Let’s check out what Tesla has got to say to their Autopilot car drivers “Tesla Autopilot relieves drivers of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel,” “We’re building Autopilot to give you more confidence behind the wheel, increase your safety on the road, and make highway driving more enjoyable … The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.”


Who’s Liable in Tesla Autopilot Car Accidents?

Tesla driver Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, who was involved in a collision in 2019 with two fatalities while using Autopilot, is charged with vehicular manslaughter. The defendant is to appear for a trial in the subject case where he was operating a Tesla Model S in Gardena, Los Angeles, at 74 mph.

The Autopilot feature in the car was working, and the driver had his hands on the steering wheel at the time of the Tesla Autopilot car accident. The defendant is the first driver facing a court trial for using semi-automated technology in a fatal accident.

If a Tesla Autopilot accident occurs, the driver who relied on the Tesla Autopilot system may be liable for carelessness. Manufacturers are also legally obligated to take reasonable steps to protect their customers from harm caused by defective products. A manufacturer may be responsible for any injuries from a product’s design, production, or marketing flaws.

“The driver shall be seated in the driver’s seat, monitoring the safe operation of the autonomous vehicle, and capable of taking over immediate manual control of the autonomous vehicle in the event of an autonomous technology failure or other emergency.”

In a Tesla Autopilot civil action lawsuit, the victim or his family could obtain damages depending on the specifics of the accident. It would be highly advisable to seek the expertise of a car accident lawyer to proceed with a personal injury lawsuit in a Tesla Autopilot car accident.

There are many arguments, controversies, and discussions regarding the safety and reliability of Tesla Autopilot car accidents. The trending video is a Tesla Autopilot test drive showing a vehicle running over a fake child-sized mannequin.

Is Tesla Autopilot dangerous?

Is it worth getting Tesla Autopilot?

In April 2023, Tesla won a lawsuit, blaming the Autopilot feature for a auto collision that happened in 2019. The jury identified that the Tesla Autopilot software wasn’t responsible for th accident. The jury did not award Justine Hsu, the plaintiff in the lawsuit any form of compensation.

More research, consistent data, and the verdicts of the current accident lawsuits involving Tesla Autopilot cars would help us judge. A more detailed investigation of the Tesla Autopilot car crashes will let us know if the brand is to be blamed.

Let the Tesla drivers understand technology is nowhere near full self-driving.

Safety is in your hands, beware and be ready to take over the wheel at all times.

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