Recently, we discussed the tragic incident where an Uber that was set in self-driving mode but had a driver behind the wheel killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Last month, a Tesla equipped with the company's Autopilot system was involved in a crash in Mountain View, which is in Northern California. The driver was killed.
A San Francisco news team has discovered similarities between the Mountain View crash and another one involving a Tesla set on Autopilot last September. In both crashes, the car veered into a concrete divider. Both occurred during low morning sun while the cars were moving at highway speeds.
According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the driver lost control of his vehicle and struck the center divider. The vehicle was hit by two other vehicles and caught fire.
The driver of the Tesla involved in the September crash was not injured. He told the CHP and the news team that his vehicle was in the Autopilot mode. He says that prior to the crash, the sun was in his eyes. Before he could take control of the wheel, his car crashed into a barrier.
The two crashes raise questions about how effectively Tesla's Autopilot feature works around barriers and how road markings impact the system. One self-driving car expert says that these systems use white road markings to center the vehicle within the lane.
However, those lines, if they lead toward a barrier, can cause the vehicle to follow into a dangerous situation. Other Tesla owners who have driven past the stretch of freeway where the driver was killed say that when they get to it, the car, as one driver put it, starts "swerving left without giving me any warnings right into that divider." They have taken back control of the vehicle and steered to safety.
People who have studied self-driving vehicles and manufacturers warn drivers that ultimately they are responsible for controlling their vehicle, and they shouldn't rely on the autopilot features to do the work for them.
Incidents like these renew conversation about how liability is determined in crashes involving autonomous vehicles. Is the manufacturer responsible if the car doesn't operate safely or is the person behind the wheel liable? Experienced California attorneys who keep abreast of case history and changing laws can provide guidance for victims of these crashes.
Source: ABC 7 San Francisco, "I-TEAM EXCLUSIVE: Tesla crash in September showed similarities to fatal Mountain View accident," Dan Noyes, April 04, 2018