Vehicles that drive themselves present a continuing fascination for Tennessee drivers and others across the nation. Once relegated to pure science fiction and battery-operated action toys, partially self-driving cars are today a reality, albeit a still imperfect one.

Witness the latest death that occurred in a Tesla Model X automobile. It crashed into a North Carolina highway divider in March, killing its driver. He had engaged the Autopilot feature that supposedly allows the car’s computer to make sure the vehicle stays not only within lane lines, but also a safe distance away from other vehicles. A similar fatal Autopilot accident, this one in a Tesla Model S, occurred about a year ago when the system failed to prevent the car from crashing into a truck that turned across its path. Tesla’s literature, however, consistently warns that drivers are responsible for keeping their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel, and monitoring the Autopilot’s performance at all times.

Given that driver error causes upwards of 40,000 vehicle crash deaths each year in America, it is questionable whether or not all human beings are capable of driving safely, even with the assistance of computer technology. Not surprisingly, Tesla’s views on this subject differ from those of the National Transportation Safety Board. Both organizations immediately began investigating last month’s crash, but that joint effort quickly ended. Either NTSB kicked Tesla off the investigatory team or Tesla quit, depending on whose story you believe. The underlying issue? The NTSB believes in withholding assignment of blame until the end of the investigation, often two years after the accident. Tesla, on the other hand, believes in assigning blame as quickly as possible, especially when it believes the blame lies with the driver, not the Autopilot system. Barely one week after the March 23 crash, Tesla announced that per vehicle logs and surveillance systems, the driver’s hands were not on the wheel and he took no evasive action to avoid the highway divider. The NTSB was not amused and the organizations parted ways.

Whether or not the two killed Autopilot drivers were totally or partially responsible for their own deaths, there is no question that inattentive and distracted driving is a continuing national problem. Auto accident victims may well wish to contact an attorney to explore the possibility of obtaining compensation for their injuries.

Source: Wired, “Tesla’s Wild Fight with the Feds Investigating Its Autopilot Death,” Jack Stewart, April 12, 2018.