It’s probably unlikely that if you live in and around East Lansing or Birmingham in Michigan that you have seen a car driving down the road with no driver in it, or a driver who seems to be not driving! Automated cars are cars that use sophisticated technology to detect traffic conditions well enough that they can be driven without the need for the human driver to intervene. Well, that’s the intention. Automated cars, also called driverless cars, may be soon commonplace. Their proponents claim that when the technology is perfected, it will make U.S. roads much safer. Driverless car technology, it is claimed, is potentially superior to human driving skills.
The technology is certainly not yet ready to be rolled out en masse. In fact, there have been a few mishaps with some of the cars that have been modified to act as automated cars. The most well known example was the fatal car truck collision last year in Florida when a keen fan of automated cars, Joshua Brown, died after his Tesla S hit a truck at speed on a divided highway.
As can be expected, the accident at the time caused quite a lot of comment, much of it uninformed, and some of it hurtful to the Brown family. There was a lot of time and effort spent in investigating the exact cause of the fatal crash and the National Traffic Safety Board has just come out with an update.
Basically, they blame both the Tesla driver and the truck driver for the crash, but also stress that the car’s designers were also to blame. They issued recommendations that might help to prevent a repeat of the crash and ultimately lead to safer automated cars in the future.
Just to recap on what happened in the crash mentioned above, 40 year old Joshua Brown was driving along a divided highway near Gainesville, Florida on May 7th 2016 when his car was hit by a truck that made a left turn across the highway in front of the car. The investigations that followed never confirmed whether Brown had his hands on the steering wheel at the time of the crash, but the car was definitely in autopilot mode.
The NTSB final report came many months after the actual crash and exhaustive investigations by the Florida Highway Patrol, Tesla itself, doctors and other medical professional and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The NTSB’s report came to the conclusion that Brown had put too much reliance on the Tesla’s automated technology, as well as the fact that the driver of the truck had failed to yield the right of way on turning in front of the car.
It also concluded that Tesla had failed to make its technology fit for the conditions that it was used for. The automated technology was adapted for limited access highways, i.e. principally interstates, so was not so well suited for the sort of divided highway that Brown was driving on. The NTSB says that Tesla has still not successfully managed to perfect its automated technology so that the cars can be used everywhere.
Tesla says that its cars are not designed to eliminate all monitoring by a human driver. The car that Brown was driving had two levels of warning if the car sensed that the driver did not have control of the wheel. There was a visual warning then an audio warning. If the driver still failed to take any notice, the car was designed to slow down ad stop. The fact that this didn’t happen implies that Brown may have had his hands on the wheel at the time of the crash.
Brown’s family makes the point that no emerging technology is going to be perfect straight away and its development always involves an amount of risk They also point ut that car driving on many U.S. highways is already has a significant risk factor and the research and development of automated cars is a a deliberate attempt to reduce the risks involved n our highways, although obviously not yet at an end point.
Here in Michigan, if you haven’t yet seen a driverless car or at least an automatically driven car, maybe you soon will. Hopefully, in ten or twenty years time our roads will be safer and there will be less accidents. In the meantime, drive defensively and obey the road rules. If you are involved in an accident and it wasn’t your fault, you have the right to make a personal injury claim against the other driver if you think that you can prove negligence on their part. Talk to a personal injury attorney at Abood Law if you live in or around East Lansing or Birmingham, Michigan.