Tesla Autopilot Kills Pedestrian – Just How Safe Is This Tech?


Tesla Autopilot Kills Pedestrian – Just How Safe Is This Tech?

With the advancement of automated technology, Tesla has delivered us the Autopilot, which as of now has caused one pedestrian fatality. You may be wondering how safe this technology is and how Tesla is working to prevent future incidents.

Studies show that although there may be more accidents with autonomous vehicles, they are less severe and result in less injury and death than those from manually driven cars. Tesla remains vigilant in that it’s ultimately the driver’s responsibility to remain attentive and control the vehicle.

If you, like so many others, are concerned about the safety of automated technology such as the Tesla Autopilot feature, continue reading this article to learn where Tesla stands on the issue of safety and liability. 

Tesla Autopilot Kills Pedestrian – The Story

If you are not already familiar with what happened, here’s the story. In April of 2018, a 2016 Tesla Model X was being driven on an expressway in Japan.

Due to some road congestion and unpredictable maneuvers from the vehicles surrounding the Tesla Model X, there was a fatal accident because the autopilot allegedly did not respond accordingly.

The car plowed through multiple motorcycles and vehicles and ultimately crushed an unsuspecting man as he was making his way through the congestion.

That is just one of the many incidents involving various brands of self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles. Another pedestrian was killed by a different brand of self-driving cars in Arizona in 2018, also because the autopilot functions did not respond properly.

There have been many other self-driven accidents where serious injuries and/or death have occurred to the drivers and passengers of both automated and manually operated vehicles.

The next section will discuss Tesla’s response and views regarding the safety of autopilot and semi-autonomous vehicles.

Tesla’s Response to Safety Concerns

Tesla claims that despite some unfortunate incidents, their cars are still safer than their manually operated counterparts. Tesla says that their data has shown that they have fewer accidents per mile driven than their manually operated competitors.

However, you have to wonder, are they truly safer, or is it that there just aren’t as many of these new-fangled vehicles on the road yet to give comparable statistics.

Tesla denies responsibility for accidents, injuries, and death as they claim that it is still ultimately the human’s responsibility to control what happens while operating the vehicle.

If you visit Tesla’s website, there is a section devoted to the issue of autopilot and the full self-driving capabilities of Tesla’s vehicles.

Tesla clearly states that these autonomous features are intended to be used when the driver is fully alert and has their hands on the steering wheel. They very plainly state that it is ultimately the responsibility of the driver to control what happens while they are on the road.

The next section will discuss the grey areas of automated vehicle usage.

Grey Areas of Autonomous Vehicle Usage

A big issue that has arisen is that the term Autopilot is giving consumers the wrong idea about how these vehicles function and their limitations. The name is giving drivers the impression that they no longer need to pay attention to the road, and that is simply not the case.

When it comes to the following things, there are a lot of grey areas:

  • Ethics
  • Safety
  • Who is responsible for accidents – the manufacturer or the human operator

This technology was implemented with the intention of increasing safety and adding convenience to a commute. With so many distracted drivers, it seems like a good idea to create a world where we can rely on A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) to keep us safe.

There are many kinks to work out and unpredictable situations that can occur between fully or semi-autonomous vehicles and those driven manually by humans. It will likely be several years before any conclusive data can be given accurately.

Another thing to consider is that not everyone will accept/adopt this new technology which also means that the transition to a more automated world will take longer.

Unless every vehicle on the road becomes autonomous, it is likely that there will always be the issue and debate of whether these vehicles are safe and who is liable in the event of an accident or vehicle malfunction.

The next section will give information on how the different levels of automation are defined.

Autonomous Driving Levels Defined

When it is simply stated that a vehicle is autonomous, a lot is left to the imagination. This is where consumer education becomes important.

It is important that people understand what the different autonomous levels are and what that means for them as drivers and passengers.

The following list will give clear definitions of what each level means to you as the driver:

Level 0 – Zero Automation

This level is pretty self-explanatory. This is what you do every day, drive a regular vehicle where you are the one who is one hundred percent in control of what happens—no help from A.I. or any other high-tech devices.

Level 1 – Driver Assisted

Vehicles that are classified as a Level 1 Autonomous Vehicle are still operated by the human. However, they have what is called an ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System).

This system can help the driver with accelerating and braking or steering. However, it does not control both at the same time. It is still the driver’s responsibility to take control when necessary. 

Level 2 – Partially Automated

When driving a Level 2 Autonomous Vehicle, the ADAS can control the:

  • Acceleration
  • Braking
  • Steering

These functions can be controlled simultaneously under some conditions as opposed to Level 1, which can only assist the driver with one function. With Level 2 automation, it is still necessary for the human driver to remain attentive and be ready to react in the event of an unexpected event.

Level 3 – Conditional Automation

A vehicle that is equipped with Conditional Automation can perform all driving tasks when the conditions are right.

Level 3 comes with what is referred to as an ADS (Automated Driving System). This type of vehicle still requires a driver to be present. However, they are not required to monitor the environment surrounding them as they travel down the road.

They are required, however, to respond when the vehicle alerts them to take over manual control when the need arises. If the conditions are not right, the driver will be fully responsible for safely operating the vehicle.

Level 4 – Highly Automated

Any vehicle that has Level 4 Automation is virtually self-driving. These vehicles may or may not allow the human to take control. When the conditions are right, vehicles with Level 4 automation can perform all aspects of driving. The driver does not have to pay attention to their surroundings unless alerted by the vehicle safety system.

Level 5 – Fully Automated

You have arrived. If you are in a vehicle that has Level 5 automation, then you are living a life of luxury. These vehicles require no participation from the driver or passengers. Thanks to their fully automated ADS, Level 5 automation can control the vehicle in all circumstances with no help from its human counterparts.

The next section will give more detail on what Autopilot really is and how it works.

Tesla’s Autopilot Defined

There is a lot of confusion and misinterpretation regarding Tesla’s Autopilot and how it works. Hopefully, this section will shed some light on the matter and clear up any misconceptions you may have about the capabilities of this technology.

Let’s begin by saying that all of Tesla’s vehicles are equipped with the capability of utilizing the Autopilot software, whether you are using some of the features or the full self-driving options.

If you own a Tesla, you will be amazed at how easy it is to upgrade your vehicle so that it has autonomous features and full self-driving capabilities.

Simply log into your personal Tesla account and order the Autopilot software package. Fully self-driving options are not available as of yet, however, Tesla vehicles are designed to be updated via a satellite system as upgrades and improvements are made over time.

Features Controlled by Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Modes

Since full self-driving capabilities are not available yet, the driver still needs to remain attentive and take action in some situations where the Autopilot is not able to react appropriately.

The vehicle will alert the driver when action is required. However, it is still important for the driver to pay attention at all times to avoid an accident.

If you want to add the Autopilot software to your Tesla, get ready to fork out a few thousand dollars. The Autopilot can control the following features as long as the vehicle remains in its lane:

  • Acceleration
  • Braking
  • Steering
  • Traffic-Aware Cruise Control

(Keeps your Tesla going at the same rate of speed as other vehicles on the road)

Tesla says that although their Autopilot features are not fully self-driving as of yet, they will evolve over time, and their vehicles will be able to be upgraded as the technology progresses throughout the years.

The current Full Self-Driving Options package that can be purchased will cost you around $10,000 and will offer the following features:

  • Auto Lane Change. Allows your Tesla to change lanes while utilizing the autosteer function.
  • Autopark. Allows you to park your Tesla in any type of spot by simply pushing a button.
  • Navigate on Autopilot (still under beta testing). Your Tesla will use the address you have pinpointed on your GPS and navigate you to your destination without having to touch a single button.
  • Smart Summon. Allows your Tesla to navigate through a complex area to find you. For example, if you are in a parking garage, it will track you through the key and pick you up at the door rather than having to walk around the parking garage looking for your car.
  • Summon. Allows you to move your Tesla in or out of a tight parking space with an app on your phone or the key.
  • Traffic and Stop Sign Control (still under beta testing). This feature will be able to identify stop signs and traffic lights and react accordingly. Human supervision will still be required at this time.

Remember, this is not yet 100% autonomous, however, it can pretty much do everything for you.  So, ultimately you, the driver, are still responsible for reacting and controlling the vehicle.

The next section will discuss the safety of autonomous vehicles.

How Safe is the Technology Used in Autonomous Vehicles

If we are going by what Tesla says and lived in a perfect world, then this technology should be safe. The problem is, we are not living in a perfect world.

Humans are about as imperfect as you can get, and with all the new technologies and things to be distracted by, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for people to pay attention whilst on the road.

So maybe the real question isn’t “Is this technology safe?”, but rather are we as human beings safe? Maybe we are the problem. Since you can’t program a human, there will always room for error.

Approximately 94% of manual and autonomous vehicle accidents that occur are due to human error, so is it really fair to blame the technology?

People tend to get very relaxed while using some of the autopilot and self-driving features, which then causes them to become distracted or, even worse, fall asleep, which means they cannot react appropriately if something unexpected occurs.

The next section will discuss some statistics and ideas regarding the safety of those on the road.

Protecting the Masses Versus an Individual

The injuries and fatalities related to autonomous vehicles are tragic and should not be downplayed in any way. However, there is a positive way to look at the technology behind these autonomous vehicles.

  • Tesla claims that their vehicles, when using fully autonomous features, are experiencing approximately one accident for every 4.19 million miles driven.
  • Comparatively, the semi-autonomous vehicles experienced approximately one accident for every 2.05 million miles driven.
  • Vehicles with no automated features are experiencing an accident for every 978k miles. 

The table below makes it easier to see the breakdown of accidents per mile:

Type of VehicleMiles Driven Between Accidents
Fully Autonomous4.19 Million
Semi-Autonomous2.05 Million
Manually Driven (no automation)978,000

So if you are basing your judgments on these particular statistics, it shows that autonomous vehicles are safer than those operated solely by a human being. Although these features can be dangerous, it is a matter of protecting the masses versus one individual.

For example, a vehicle could be barreling toward a group of pedestrians crossing the street, which its radar and cameras detect and cause it to veer out of the way, causing it to strike a single pedestrian that was walking on the side of the road.

Injury or Death Not to be Taken Lightly

Although it is terrible for anyone to be injured or killed, it is a matter of a group of people being saved versus one individual. This is also where the issue of ethics and who is liable becomes fuzzy and confusing.

Another positive point that can be made regarding autonomous vehicle usage is that although there still may be accidents, studies have shown that they are less severe, resulting in fewer casualties and severe injury.

The next section will discuss government regulation for autonomous vehicles.

Government Regulations – Autonomous Vehicle Safety

You may be wondering what the government is doing to regulate and monitor the safety of these autonomous vehicles on a state and federal level. 

At this time, the federal government is leaving the legislation up to the individual states. Many states require special permission to test drive these types of vehicles on public roadways with a:

  • Proper driver’s license
  • Vehicle insurance
  • Vehicle registration
  • A certificate of compliance

As this technology improves and has been tested and explored more, there will be more legislation and regulations created to manage the issue of autonomous vehicles.

The next section will give some pros and cons of autonomous technology used in vehicles.

Pros and Cons of Using Autonomous Features

The following table gives some pros and cons to using the autonomous features in a vehicle:

ProsCons
Creates another accessibility option for those who are disabled or don’t like to driveHas the great potential to make traffic safer and efficientHas the potential to prevent many serious accidentsIn the long run, it could reduce the cost to society by lessening the expenses related to an automobile accident and medical expensesIs environmentally friendly since most vehicles with this technology are electricCyber attacks. Hackers can get into the system and control the vehicleFlawed technology, meaning that even A.I. can have glitches or make the wrong judgment decision when presented with real-life driving conditions and situationsGives drivers an inaccurate sense of security and freedom while they are not in controlIncreased danger of fire due to the battery being highly combustible. The battery will burn for hours if caught on fireLack of government regulations

This table may not be all-inclusive, however, it gives you some good data to compare and contrast so you can ultimately make your own decision about how safe or unsafe this technology is for our world.

How Safe is Autonomous Technology

It is safe to say that if you look at the big picture, this technology has great potential for making the roads a safer place to travel.

Although this new tech cannot always prevent every accident, injury, or death, with time, it has the ability to greatly reduce the number of vehicular incidents caused by human error and negligence.

Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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