Convenience Meets Dangerous Reliance: “Self-Driving” Cars and Crashes
With an increase in vehicles hitting the market with driver assist and what has been called “self-driving technology,” it is important for drivers to understand what these terms mean, and how to correct the common misconceptions regarding the level of capabilities these cars possess. These vehicles, and the majority of technology in the consumer market up to this point, only serves to assist drivers, and are not designed to be left unattended to allow the car to drive itself. So the surge in crashes can be linked to drivers overestimating the cars ability to drive and function without their full attention dedicated to the road. Some insight to this has been found in data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The NHTSA complied nine months of crash data, breaking the data into two categories based on the level of the autonomous systems. The first are driver-assist systems. These are systems that offer speed and steering input, but cannot drive without the driver operating the vehicle normally. These systems are designed to help correct mistakes to reduce crashes and human error. The NHTSA found that there have been 367 car crashes involving these vehicles in the nine month span, and within this number there were six fatalities and five serious injuries. Of the 367 crashes, 74% involved a Tesla system, either its "full self-driving" software or its precursor, Tesla Autopilot.
The second classification includes vehicles that are fully autonomous technologies. These are vehicles that are intended to be able to function without any necessary human interaction behind the wheel. There were 130 crashes involving fully automated driving systems, roughly 50% of which were attributable to Waymo crashes, 26% to Transdev, a shuttle operator, and Cruise, which offers robotaxis for General Motors in San Francisco, responsible for 18%.
Although there are reports of crashes with both types of automated systems, there is a lot of potential for these technologies, if used correctly, to greatly reduce crash frequency, and crash severity. The NHTSA’s information on these systems shows that with driver assist in the areas of forward collision warnings, lane departure warnings, rear cross traffic warnings, and blind sport warnings, drivers will soon be safer than ever on the road. This potential safety however, is contingent on consumers understanding the capabilities and limitations of the technology.
Even with driver vigilance behind the wheel, these driver-assist systems, much like all forms of technology, are capable of error. Earlier this year Tesla was ordered by a court in Munich, Germany to pay over $101,000 in damages after a woman claimed that her Model X's Autopilot feature failed to recognize hazards and braked unexpectedly when navigating through city traffic.
If you or a loved one has sustained a serious injury in a car accident involving a self-driving vehicle, an experienced personal injury attorney can help. It is important to consult with a lawyer early to investigate your options, and preserve crucial evidence. For assistance with these matters, please contact us to learn more.
About the author: Peter J. Gregory is a partner with the firm. He is a trial lawyer with extensive experience resolving disputes in state and federal trial courts. His personal injury practice focuses on advising clients who have been injured or lost loved ones in accidents caused by the carelessness or recklessness of others. Please feel free to contact him directly at email@example.com or (585) 512-3506.
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