In September 2016, Tesla upgraded its Autopilot system, and added new limits on hands-off driving and other features which Elon Musk said would most likely have prevented the accident.
In a significant development, U.S. auto safety regulators have disclosed that they found no evidence of defects in Tesla Motor’s Model S which was involved in a collision with a truck while being on its Autopilot system and led to the death of the driver.
The case was closely watched by auto manufacturers in the U.S. given their surging investment in tomorrow’s self-driven cars and their understandable abhorrence of exposing themselves to increased liabilities.
Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Transportation Secretary told reporters that drivers have to take their duties and obligations seriously in order to maintain control of their vehicle. In the same breath he also stated that automakers must clearly explain the limits of their semi-autonomous systems.
In this particular case, Tesla Motor’s Autopilot had one limitation that it could not detect a truck trailer that crossed the road in front of the victim’s car.
“The (auto) industry is going to have to be clear about what the technology does and what it is does not do, and communicate it clearly,” said Foxx.
A lawyer from the victim’s family said they plan on evaluating all of the information coming from government agencies who are investigating the crash “before making any decisions or taking any position on these matters.”
Legal experts have weighed in on the matter saying this decision does not mean that auto manufacturers can escape liability claims when their driver assistance systems fails to prevent a crash.
“If it is known that drivers are misusing and being confused by your self-driving system, then that in and of itself can be a safety-related defect,” said Jason Stephens, a product liability lawyer.
In an interview, Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, said “it is important regulators allow the flexibility and freedom to innovate, but also prevent technology that is not quite ready for prime time to get on the road.”
Tesla responded to this decision by saying, “the safety of our customers comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion.”