As an attorney representing car accident victims quite often, the recent news of two Tesla vehicles that crashed while in self-driving or autonomous driving mode raised a lot of questions. From the attorney perspective, we are taught to evaluate an accident applying two major elements. The first element is negligence, a two prong question. First, d id the operator of a motor vehicle, operate his or her car in a way that was unreasonable under the circumstances. The failure to operate your car in a reasonable manner is the first element of negligence. The second element is proving that that failure, was a substantial factor or proximate cause of the accident. The lines are blurred when we consider modern technology. We must now consider whether the vehicle itself was negligent.
Tesla advises all of its owners that it’s autopilot feature DOES NOT mean that the vehicle is operating itself. However, all marketing and news stories are describing the benefits of placing the car in autopilot mode and allowing the car and its sensors to sense the road and vehicles and obstructions around it. Given this dichotomy, one must ask if the warning given is sufficient to free Tesla of any responsibility.
Joshua Brown’s death was the first reported death while operating a vehicle in autopilot mode. This month, his vehicle collided with an 18 wheeler when the autopilot feature and the surrounding sun glare did not allow the vehicle’s autopilot features to react in a reasonable and timely manner. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating this accident with a focus on fault of the vehicle’s autopilot features.