We’ve previously discussed on this blog some of the legal questions surrounding automatic driving technology, specifically what is more properly termed “driver assist” technology. As we’ve noted, one well known version of this technology is Tesla’s Autopilot, which requires drivers to remain alert to make corrections in some circumstances.
One of the problems that will need to be addressed with driver assist technology going forward is how to determine the causes of these accidents, and how to sort out liability when there are multiple at-fault parties. A report recently published by the National Transportation Safety Board implicitly raises these issues, even if it doesn’t address them directly.
The report concerns an Ohio accident involving a man who died while driving a Tesla Model S, which is equipped with Autopilot, after his vehicle crashed into a truck that entered into his path. According to investigators, the man ignored multiple visual and audible warnings from the Autopilot system that he needed to place his hands on the wheel to avoid an accident. Interestingly, though, the report also noted that a crash witness reported that the truck driver also had sufficient time to avoid the collision.
The NTSB report contains a lot of information about the crash, including vehicle performance, human performance, motor carrier data, highway design, crash reconstruction data, photographs, and much other information. Ultimately, though, the report contained no conclusions about how or why the crash occurred. It isn’t exactly known why the driver ignored the warning signals. Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded after its own investigation that there were no defects with Tesla’s equipment, and the recent NTSB does not contradict this.
One thing that needs to be kept in mind about government accident reports is that they cannot be used without reserve in litigation. There are specific rules regarding what can and can’t be admitted into evidence. We’ll say more about this in our next post.
USA Today, “Driver killed in Tesla self-driving car crash ignored warnings, NTSB reports,” Nathan Bomey, June 20, 2017.
EE Times, “Fatal Tesla Crash: That’s Not All, Folks,’ Junko Yoshida, June 27, 2017.