Self-driving Cars: Unsafe at Any Speed?


Recent crashes of Tesla cars that were in autopilot have provoked a federal investigation into the car’s autopilot, emergency braking, and collision warning systems.

The New York Times published an editorial on July 11 calling for better testing and regulation of new car technologies following the recent crash that claimed the life of a Tesla Model S driver.

The crash occurred May 7 in Florida while the Tesla was on autopilot mode and failed to see an 18-wheel tractor-trailer crossing the highway. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking information from Tesla about autopilot and why it failed to detect the tractor-trailer, as well as on Tesla’s forward collision and emergency braking systems.

The Florida driver, who reportedly posted YouTube videos of the Tesla driving in autopilot, may have been watching a Harry Potter DVD at the time of the crash, the Guardian reported. Tesla has advised against drivers taking their hands off the wheel while in autopilot, saying the mode is in beta testing.

Another incident with Tesla’s autopilot occurred on July 10, when a Model S veered off the side of a road in Montana and hit a guardrail at over 50 mph.

The New York Times called on the NHTSA to study how automakers can minimize driver distraction, noting that as assisted driving systems such as Tesla’s autopilot become more prevalent, drivers are likely to become more distracted and pay less attention to the road.

It also suggested that the agency “establish minimum standards for driver assistance features and a testing protocol for these systems, as well as hasted  the development” of a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication system.


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