Injury Law Blog

Tesla’s autopilot car not liable in deadly accident

On May 7th, 2016, Joshua Brown was driving his Tesla Model S car on a state highway in Florida, using the Autopilot system so he could drive hands free. However, on that day, the Model S crashed into a tractor trailer that crossed the road in front of Mr. Brown’s vehicle at 74 miles per hour. Mr. Brown was killed in the crash.

The question then arose: how responsible was Tesla and the car’s Autopilot system for Mr. Brown’s death?

Now, eight months later, federal regulators have found that there were no defects in Tesla’s system and that a recall was not necessary, according to a recent article by the New York Times

However, federal agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are worried that consumers are unaware that systems like Autopilot still require driver engagement, and may be fooled into thinking that the car can operate completely autonomously. 

While Autopilot was seen as pioneering at its introduction, many vehicle makers have followed suit, including Mercedes, GM and Audi. 

 

What is the Autopilot system?

Tesla’s self-driving feature, known as Autopilot, allows the car to break, accelerate and pass other vehicles by using a system of cameras and radars. However, authorities caution that, even with the Autopilot deployed, full driver engagement is still necessary. 

In Mr. Brown’s case, Tesla concluded that Autopilot failed to recognize the white truck against a bright sky. Authorities later concluded that Mr. Brown had about 7 seconds to recognize the truck and begin to break, which he did not do. 

Per official numbers, the frequency of accidents involving the Model S declined by about 40 percent after the company introduced the Autopilot feature.