Tesla in Self Driving Mode Involved in Fatal Car Accident

The buzz around the advent of self-driving vehicles has been enormous in recent years. Spurred on by both a desire to improve the quality of life among motorists as well as a widely held belief that self-driving cars will reduce car accidents in Chicago and in the nation, manufacturers have been racing to produce the first, the best, and the most advanced versions of autonomous driving to date.

No one disputes that a large number of collisions across the country are due to the mistakes of drivers themselves. The thought is that eliminating the human error potential when driving will lead to a crash-free world where people no longer lose their lives or suffer injuries due to traffic accidents. However, we are far from that potential reality and new information suggests we have a long way to go as U.S. officials have confirmed the first known death associated with a car in self-driving mode.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has reported that a collision on May 7, 2016 involved a Tesla car in self-driving mode. Though the information released is still preliminary, NHTSA stated that it appears a tractor trailer turned left in front of a Tesla that was being operated autonomously in Florida, leading to a collision between the two vehicles. Authorities do not believe the Tesla applied its brakes and thinks the Autopilot system was effectively blinded by bright conditions, a bright sun, and a truck that was reflecting the ambient light.

The resulting impact led to the Tesla passing underneath a portion of the truck’s trailer, causing extensive damage to the Tesla and claiming the life of the 40-year-old behind the wheel. Local reports indicate that the driver was a 40-year-old Navy veteran.

Tesla has acknowledged the death in its vehicle and has stated that drivers are required to acknowledge they are ultimately responsible for the conduct of their vehicles when in Autopilot mode, a technology which is still being tested and is listed in beta mode.

Officials in all fields related to transit are now debating the presence and safety of similar self-driving modes and questioning whether any drivers should be utilizing these technologies at this point in time.

Those who own Teslas are being cautioned not to rely upon any self-driving features they may possess. Further, drivers are required to know the state and local laws as autonomous transportation is prohibited on public roads in most states. If you own any vehicle that has a drive-assist function, make sure you continue to pay attention to driving conditions at all times and be prepared to stop if necessary. Other drivers can make a mistake at any time and there are no guarantees that your safety features will save you when you need them.

Prior Blog Entry:

Out-of-Pocket Hospital Costs are Increasing in Chicago, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published June 28, 2016.


Self-Driving Tesla Was Involved in Fatal Crash, U.S. Says, by Bill Vlasic and Neal E. Boudette, The New York Times, published June 30, 2016.

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