Saturday, June 10, 2023

Autopilot, Auto Crash?

Right-wing mogul Elon Musk's Tesla brand has suffered its ups and downs, some associated with his white supremacist / Trumpist political views, but more associated with instances of the car catching fire and having its autopilot feature malfunction. The WaPo has an article this morning on the striking number of accidents and deaths associated with the car's autopilot feature:

"The school bus was displaying its stop sign and flashing red warning lights, a police report said, when Tillman Mitchell, 17, stepped off one afternoon in March. Then a Tesla Model Y approached on North Carolina Highway 561.

The car — allegedly in Autopilot mode — never slowed down.

It struck Mitchell at 45 mph. The teenager was thrown into the windshield, flew into the air and landed face down in the road, according to his aunt, Dorothy Lynch. Mitchell’s father heard the crash and rushed from his porch to find his son lying in the middle of the road.

“If it had been a smaller child,” Lynch said, “the child would be dead.”

The crash in North Carolina’s Halifax County, where a futuristic technology came barreling down a rural highway with devastating consequences, was one of 736 U.S. crashes since 2019 involving Teslas in Autopilot mode — far more than previously reported, according to a Washington Post analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. The number of such crashes has surged over the past four years, the data shows, reflecting the hazards associated with increasingly widespread use of Tesla’s futuristic driver-assistance technology as well as the growing presence of the cars on the nation’s roadways.  [snip]  

Tesla’s 17 fatal crashes reveal distinct patterns, The Post found: Four involved a motorcycle. Another involved an emergency vehicle. Meanwhile, some of Musk’s decisions — such as widely expanding the availability of the features and stripping the vehicles of radar sensors — appear to have contributed to the reported uptick in incidents, according to experts who spoke with The Post." (our emphasis)

Musk has been pushing that advanced feature apparently before it was fully road tested and road worthy. As the article puts it, he's testing the flaws in the technology in real time on America's highways. Musk expects buyers to serve as the literal crash test dummies.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the Tesla's autopilot feature, given the surge in accidents over the past four years. If the NHTSA investigation and other information indicates negligence on behalf of Musk's company, we would expect major class action lawsuits against the "Chief Twit's" company.

(image: ABC News)


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