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Who is to Blame for Fatal Self-Driving Tesla Car Accident?


Joshua Brown of Canton, Ohio is the first recorded fatality linked to a self-driving car. As he was traveling down a Florida highway and using the self-driving feature of his Tesla Model S, the autonomous vehicle collided with and traveled under a tractor trailer that was making a left. Mr. Brown lost his life as a result of his injuries.

Investigators are now faced with the complicated and first-of-its-kind task of determining liability when a self-driving vehicle is involved in a fatal accident. Most truck accidents of this nature would be caused by up to two parties: the driver of the car and the trucker controlling the tractor trailer. In this situation, a third party may be to blame for the accident: the Tesla Model S itself.

Autonomous or Dangerous?

Early statements from Tesla claimed that a self-driving car will only start using its crash-avoidance systems when both its radar and “computer vision” agree on what is actually around the vehicle. In this particular circumstance, it is theorized that the forward-facing cameras couldn’t “see” the truck due to its light color against a brightly lit sky. Even though the radar system likely detected a large object ahead, the warning was ignored due to the lack of correlating data.

Even though it is entirely possible that both Mr. Brown and the truck driver are mostly to blame for the accident – something that may not even be made clear after the ongoing investigation ends – underlying problems with Tesla’s self-driving system seem to be present regardless. After the Tesla hit the commercial truck, it veered off the road, hit not one but two fences, struck a power pole, and finally came to a stop near the highway. If the technology was as safe as it has been advertised, shouldn’t it have slowly pulled over to the side of the road after it hit the truck, not destroying several pieces of property afterwards?

Tesla & Others Feel the Heat

The fatal crash has brought much skepticism against Tesla and its promises of self-driving cars all around the world in as little as 10 years. Other companies that are developing autonomous vehicles, such as Nissan, BMW, and Apple, are also under the microscope. However, Tesla is one of the few automakers that doesn’t use Lidar (light detection and ranging) technology to map a car’s surroundings; some experts believe Lidar could have prevented the accident in Florida.

At Rourke and Blumenthal LLC, our Columbus car accident attorneys will be keeping an eye on this story as the investigation develops. Be sure to visit our blog often for important updates, especially if liability is ultimately determined in the case. You can also contact us if you need help with filing a lawsuit after you have been in a car accident of any kind.

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