Two years ago, in January 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that crash rates for Tesla cars had dropped by almost 40% after installation in the cars of a driver-assist technology developed by Tesla called Autosteer. Autosteer is a part of the larger driverless Autopilot system that comes standard with Tesla vehicles and is responsible for for automatically steering the car into other lanes, passing other cars and turning onto exit ramps. Prior to installation of the Autosteer technology, Tesla vehicles in a January 2017 NHTSA study had a crash rate of 1.3 crashes per 1 million miles traveled, whereas that figure was only 0.8 crashes per million miles when Autosteer was installed on a vehicle. However, news recently broke that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration actually was not even properly interpreting the data, which showed that the crash rate was actually much higher in those same vehicles than the official numbers that were being released by the agency.
Experts interviewed by the L.A. Times advised that such a large drop in the accident rate for Tesla vehicles as a result of the Autosteer technology was stunning, and a huge vote of confidence for both the Autosteer technology developed by Tesla as well as the safety of driverless vehicles more generally. One of these experts requested the data from NHTSA that its January 2017 analysis was based upon, but was surprised to find that the agency primarily involved in regulating vehicle safety in the United States actually had no interest in sharing that data it had based its conclusions regarding the safety of the Tesla vehicles in question on. It took the researcher a federal lawsuit and almost two years to find out the truth: the numbers were far more complicated than NHTSA made them out to be, and they were not nearly as favorable to Tesla as NHTSA’s original analysis made them appear to be. Instead, the review actually found that the opposite of what the NHTSA analysis showed: that Tesla’s Autosteer technology actually had increased the crash rate for those vehicles.
In a scathing report examining NHTSA’s January 2017 findings, a researcher, R.A. Whitefield of safety organization Quality Systems Corp., discovered that not only was NHTSA basing its conclusions about the safety of Tesla vehicles with Autosteer technology upon incomplete data, but the data that existed and had been collected by the agency seemed to actually suggest the opposite from the agency’s conclusions regarding the safety of Tesla’s Autosteer software. Whitfield discovered in reviewing NHTSA’s data obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that the actual mileage at the time the Autosteer software was installed appears to have been reported by Tesla for fewer than half the vehicles NHTSA studied and upon which the agency based its January 2017 glowing report on the increased safety experienced as a result of the Autosteer technology. In addition, for the vehicles that lacked mileage information both before and after the software’s installation, the change in crash rates associated with Autosteer was actually the opposite of that claimed by NHTSA. That is, for the small sample size of cars for which the agency actually had complete information, Teslas were involved in 60 percent more crashes after the Autosteer software was installed than those vehicles which lacked the software. That could mean cars with Autosteer actually were more dangerous than cars without the technology.
This result would be consistent with a broader trend Tesla has experienced with its Autopilot technology. A number of Tesla vehicles were involved in collisions as a result of their Autopilot technology, some of them fatal. According to a May 2018 Wired article, Tesla’s Autopilot system had been linked to multiple deaths, one of them in Los Angeles in March 2018 when a Tesla Model X SUV slammed into a concrete divider on a Los Angeles highway and killed the vehicle’s driver instantly. Another Tesla vehicle in Southern California had slammed into the back of a stopped fire truck while the Autopilot feature on his Tesla vehicle was engaged in January 2018. Finally, in perhaps the most infamous accident linked to a malfunction of Tesla’s Autopilot software, when a driver whose Autpilot was engaged collided with a semi truck in Florida in 2016 and the Tesla driver was killed. When combined with problems reported by other autonomous driving vehicles, like the fatality that occurred when an Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in June 2018, the jury is out on how safety some of these systems really make driving vehicles like Teslas.
If you live in California and own or drive a Tesla vehicle, chances are that you have been sold on the safety of its Autopilot and Autosteer technology and other promises of the safety features of autonomous vehicles and autonomous safety technology that simply has not been proven to be reliably safe yet. If you were injured in a crash involving a Tesla vehicle that was caused by faulty safety software that did not perform as reliably as advertised, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at JT Legal Group at (888) 529-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorneys handle all manner of personal injury claims, from product liability claims against vehicle manufacturers like Tesla to motor vehicle accidents caused by such product malfunctions. Software malfunctions are unfortunately all too common even as cars are becoming more and more complex (but supposedly safer) as a result of software systems that do not perform as advertised and then cause a motorist to become involved in an accident. Without the help of a trusted personal injury law firm like JT Legal Group, your claim may be subject to getting pushed to the side or completely rejected. For more information, including a free consultation regarding your particular situation, contact our firm immediately – we’re here to help you.
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