First Fatal Tesla Autopilot Accident Occurs

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Semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles have been hyped and promised as being the next step in the path to accident-free highways and roadways. However, the path towards developing a world where no injuries or fatalities occur due to automobile accidents is still years or decades away. Despite the need for significant new development and investment in self-driving vehicle technologies, the initial generations of this technology have already been deployed.  Were you in a car accident with an autonomous vehicle? Contact a Philadelphia car accident lawyer today.

One of the more advanced versions of semi-autonomous driving technology is Tesla’s Autopilot feature. For owners of Tesla’s vehicles, the feature is seen as revolutionary as it can operate the vehicle without the need for human input. Rather the vehicle makes turns, avoids obstacles and dangers, and operates on its own independent from commands or other input provided by a human. While the results produced by vehicles like the Tesla Roadster are impressive, the systems simply cannot handle every situation at its current stage of development.

Unfortunately, a failure to consider the still imperfect nature of these automated systems resulted in the first death while an automated driving system was activated. The death raises questions about how NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Agency) and automakers move forward with the technology. On one hand, it is essential to deploy the technology so that built-in machine learning algorithms can learn from millions of hours of operation. At the same time, the full extent of the abilities of this technology must be explained and precautions should exist to discourage the unsafe or improper use of the system.

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Truck Driver Blames the Driver of the Tesla for the Car Accident

News reports have characterized the driver as the Tesla as an individual who was known to drive over the speed limit at times but was otherwise a safe driver. The driver, Joshua Brown, was a 40-year-old technology entrepreneur from Ohio. He was an evangelist for Tesla’s Autopilot system and routinely touted the system’ promised safety benefits. Unfortunately, the safety benefits of the system were not realized in Mr. Brown’s case.

Here, the Tesla Model S occupied by Brown had engaged its Autopilot system. Brown was not operating the vehicle at the time of the accident. Apparently, the Autopilot system’s camera failed to distinguish the bright white paint of the side of a tractor-trailer for that of a brightly lit sky. Therefore, rather than slowing down the vehicle, the car hurtled into the back of the commercial truck. Brown never activated manual controls or attempted to take control back from the vehicle’s onboard computer.

The driver of the truck claims that the accident was made inevitable by the behavior of the Tesla driver. The truck driver, Frank Baressi, claims that the Tesla was speeding at the time of the accident. He says that he did not see the speeding vehicle. Furthermore, he also claims that Brown was watching one of the Harry Potter movies when he should have been watching the road. While Baressi did state that he could not see the movie, he did state that he could hear one of the popular films.

The Commercial Driver Has a Spotty Driving Record

While this would appear to be a clear-cut case of a distracted driver, the analysis may not be quite as clear as it may look. Baressi is the owner of a trucking company and the company’s sole driver. Okemah Express is Baressi’s trucking company. Okemah Express has been cited for seven violations during four traffic stops in the previous two years. The most glaring violation occurred in January 2016 when a Virginia state inspector ordered Baressi out of service for having exceeded the 14 hours of service limit. other recent violations include failure to yield to a traffic-control device and improper lane change. A recent safety inspection also found that the truck’s tires were worn and going bald.

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Thus, in light of the still ongoing investigation into the accident, it is not 100% clear as to the exact cause of the Tesla car accident. However, what we do know is that the accident definitely did occur with the Autopilot system engaged. The family of Brown has indicated that they wanted to help the government and Tesla so that “information learned from this tragedy will trigger further innovation which enhances the safety of everyone on the roadways.”

If you were injured in Pennsylvania in any sort of car accident, contact an Abington, Pennsylvania car accident lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm today.

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