18th August 2023 – (New York) Engineers from Tesla Inc have disclosed that the company failed to address the limitations of its Autopilot system after a tragic crash in Florida back in 2016. This revelation has come to light during a lawsuit filed by a family following a similar fatal collision in 2019. The engineers’ testimonies indicate that Tesla made no changes to its driver-assistance technology to account for crossing traffic during the nearly three years between these two high-profile accidents. The disclosure adds to the legal pressure faced by Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, who are being questioned on whether the company has misled consumers and regulators about its progress in developing self-driving vehicles.
Tesla’s Autopilot system, heavily marketed as the future of autonomous driving, has come under scrutiny due to its alleged failure to address critical issues. Multiple engineers have testified that the technology did not undergo any significant modifications to accommodate crossing traffic, leading to fatal accidents. This revelation raises concerns about whether Tesla has overstated the capabilities of its driver-assistance features, which has fueled the ongoing legal challenges from various stakeholders.
Tesla’s Autopilot system has attracted the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is currently conducting multiple investigations into possible defects linked to at least 17 deaths since June 2021. The investigations aim to determine whether the Autopilot system is responsible for these tragic incidents. The outcome of these investigations could have significant implications for Tesla’s credibility and the future of autonomous driving technology.
The impending trial, scheduled for October, will be the first time Tesla faces a legal battle over a death attributed to its Autopilot system. The case will witness a clash between Elon Musk’s claims that Teslas are the safest cars ever made and expert witnesses who argue that Tesla’s marketing has created a false sense of security among drivers. Elon Musk, known for his hands-on approach, was excused from testifying in this particular case. However, excerpts from a 2020 deposition revealed Musk’s involvement in defining the product and making crucial decisions regarding Autopilot’s functionality.
Tesla has consistently maintained that it has been transparent about the limitations of its Autopilot system. The company asserts that drivers must remain alert and ready to take control of the vehicle at any moment. Earlier this year, Tesla successfully defended itself in a trial related to a non-fatal Autopilot crash in Los Angeles, where the jury cleared the company of any wrongdoing. However, the upcoming trial in Palm Beach County, Florida, involving the family of Jeremy Banner, who tragically lost his life in a Model 3 collision with a tractor-trailer, poses a new challenge for the automaker.
The amended complaint filed by the Banner family accuses Tesla of intentional misconduct and gross negligence. It argues that the company should have reprogrammed Autopilot to shut off in dangerous circumstances, particularly after a previous fatal accident involving a Tesla driver crashing into the side of a truck in 2016. The family’s expert witness, Mary “Missy” Cummings, a former adviser to the NHTSA, alleges that Tesla knowingly engaged in intentional misconduct and gross negligence by failing to adequately test and enhance Autopilot between the two accidents.