Crashes across the country involving self-driving cars using the autopilot feature have raised increased scrutiny over how safe these cars are. Self-driving vehicles have become increasingly popular and are more commonly seen in Davie and other parts of South Florida today. Unfortunately, fatal crashes involving this feature have occurred in Florida and across the country, raising questions about how dangerous these vehicles can be.
Last spring, a man in Florida driving a Tesla Model 3 reportedly crashed into a tractor-trailer that was attempting to cross the highway. The investigation revealed that the car had been traveling at 68 miles per hour when the impact tore the roof off the vehicle, killing the driver instantly. Investigators found that before the crash, the autopilot feature had been activated for ten seconds, and the driver did not have his hands on the wheel for eight of those seconds.
The accident was reminiscent of another fatal crash in 2016. Another Florida driver operating a Tesla Model S with the autopilot feature activated crashed into a tractor-trailer merging onto the road ahead. The investigation that followed revealed that the driver had their hands on the steering wheel for 25 seconds out of 37 minutes before the crash occurred.
So, how safe is autopilot in self-driving cars? As the appeal for this new technology grows, many are reconsidering the safety of autonomous vehicles.
The autopilot feature in Tesla cars is a driver assistance system that’s intended for use by a fully alert driver with both hands on the wheel. It’s not intended to replace the driver or make the car autonomous. Some of the mechanisms in this feature are:
Adaptive cruise control
Automatic lane changing
Tesla’s summoning capability, called Smart Summon, allows owners to summon their cars from short distances, such as to and from a parking spot or garage, with a maximum range of 200 feet. Autopilot can navigate autonomously, but only on limited-access highways, like Interstate-95 or the Florida Turnpike.
Autopilot uses ultrasonic sensors, cameras, and radar to see and sense the environment around the car, according to Tesla’s website. The cameras and sensors provide the driver with an acute awareness of the car’s surroundings that would not have been discovered otherwise. Overall, the system is meant to make the driving experience a safer and less stressful one. It does not, however, take the place of a physical driver operating the vehicle.
Tesla models are the only cars with the full autopilot feature. They include the:
Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model S
Tesla Model X
There are, however, other manufacturers that incorporate their own version of self-driving capabilities. The most widely available feature is adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering capabilities. Some of those models include:
BMW: 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series
Toyota: Corolla Hatchback, RAV4
While some of these vehicles include the self-driving capabilities in standard models, many require extra features to be added for the self-driving features to operate.
While operating a self-driving car, drivers must stay alert behind the wheel, which is the same as in any vehicle without self-driving features. In many crashes involving a car on autopilot, the drivers did not have their hands on the wheel, and they were driving much faster than the legal speed limit. This overreliance on the self-driving feature and reckless driving results in fatal accidents.
To operate self-driving cars safely, drivers must pay the same level of attention to the road as they would in any other vehicle. Even while on limited-access highways like the Florida Turnpike, drivers can’t depend on autopilot to drive for them. Those considering a self-driving car must remember that the feature is intended to enhance the safety and ease of the driver’s experience – not replace it.
The future of self-driving cars seems promising. If they function as intended, we might see a decrease in serious and fatal car accidents in Florida. However, this self-driving technology is just starting to be implemented in newer models of vehicles. Time will tell if self-driving cars make roads safer and work as planned when they become used on a larger scale. When self-driving car accidents do occur, the Law Offices of McCullough & Leboff, PA, are here to help.
For more than 48 years, the car accident lawyers at McCullough & Leboff, PA, have represented injured clients in Davie, Hollywood, and throughout Florida. If you’ve been hurt in an accident involving a self-driving car, contact our car accident lawyers as soon as possible. Our injury attorneys are experienced in self-driving car accidents and know how to navigate the complex laws that surround these cases. To schedule a free consultation and discuss your case, complete an online contact form or call our office today.