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Fatal Tesla Accident Prompts Demand for Increased Autopilot Regulations

July 27, 2021 in

Following yet another fatal crash involving a Tesla self-driving vehicle, many scrutinize the degree of regulations surrounding the Autopilot feature as well as the company’s marketing tactics. Below, the New Jersey and New York auto accident lawyers at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. detail the recent incident and whether or not particular language employed by Tesla, Inc. contributes to the improper use of the Autopilot feature.

Two Die in Tesla Crash Just Outside of Houston

In April 2021, two men in a Tesla were killed after the vehicle crashed into a tree before catching fire. The incident occurred at 11:25 p.m. in the Woodlands area, a suburban town approximately a half-hour north of Houston, Texas. 

The model of Tesla they were operating was a 2019 Model S. The vehicle was going at a high rate of speed when it veered off the road for nearly 100 feet before crashing. Investigation is currently underway to determine whether or not the vehicle was employing its driverless features. The two crash victims, aged 59 and 69, had taken the vehicle for a ride to test out its driverless features, according to their wives.

Further investigation revealed that the two men were found in the passenger seat and in the backseat of the vehicle at the time of the collision—no one was operating the car or sitting in the front driver’s seat. 

According to Constable Mark Herman of the Harris County 4th Precinct, who responded to the scene of the crime, significantly more water was required to put out the fire than normal—more than 30,000 gallons of water. Typically, it would take a matter of minutes to extinguish a car fire, but it took 4 hours for first-responders to properly extinguish the Tesla fire. This raised concerns about the potential hazards of batteries used in electric vehicles.

Tesla Incident Adds to Scrutiny Surrounding Tesla Autopilot Regulations

The Houston crash, as well as dozens more crashes involving Tesla vehicles that have occurred in the past several years, has raised questions regarding the efficacy of Tesla’s Autopilot feature. According to a recent article titled  “Two die in driverless Tesla incident. Where are the regulators?” published in the Los Angeles Times, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk responded to investigators inquiring about whether or not Autopilot technology was engaged at the time of the Houston crash. 

Musk had published a statement on Twitter affirming that “data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled.” As a response to Musk’s statement, county police officials reported to Reuters that they were going to serve a warrant to retrieve the data.

The article discusses that, while there have been several Tesla accidents involving the Autopilot system, “ little action has been taken by federal safety officials and none at all by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which has allowed Tesla to test its autonomous technology on public roads without requiring that it conform to the rules that dozens of other autonomous tech companies are following.”

The recent Houston incident has further fueled the position of those who advocate for Tesla driverless technology to conform to heightened safety regulations 

Questionable Language Used In Tesla’s Marketing May Confuse Audience

Many express further concern over the potentially problematic language used in Tesla’s marketing. Particular language used in advertising may rely too heavily on words such as “autonomous,” “driverless” and “full-self driving” to promote Tesla technology. 

In the LA Times article, author Russ Mitchell states, “although Tesla technology might well be safe when used as directed, Tesla’s marketing can lead people to believe the car is capable of autonomous driving…”

Mitchell continues, “adding to the confusion, Musk himself has appeared on “60 Minutes” and Bloomberg TV behind the wheel of a Tesla with his hands in the air. He’s been talking about Tesla‘s fully autonomous technology as if it’s imminent since 2016.

Other companies, such as Ford, are releasing automated technology similar to Tesla’s technology. Yet unlike Tesla, these companies are not referring to their products as “full self-driving.” There are also strict measures that ensure the technology is used properly.

For example, General Motors’ SuperCruise system allows hands-free driving and automated lane changing, yet deploys warning lights and sounds if the driver loses their attention while driving. This technology will even trigger the vehicle to pull off the road and stop itself if the driver remains distracted for too long. This is unlike the steering wheel sensor that Musk favors as an instrument for safety, which could easily be circumnavigated “by hanging a weight off the wheel or jamming an object into it.”

Consult New York Car Accident Attorneys at Sullivan Papain if You Have Been Injured in a Tesla Accident

Multiple car accidents caused by or involving Tesla vehicles raise concerns over the reliability of its Autopilot technology and whether or not drivers are being intentionally misled about the agency of the vehicle’s driverless feature. 

At SPBMCC, our New York City car accident attorneys have been closely following news updates about the recent Houston incident. If you or a loved one experienced severe injury or death as a result of a Tesla accident where the Autopilot feature may have been employed at the time of the incident, please contact our team of attorneys by calling (212) 732-9000.

Information in this article was sourced from The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. 

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