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Are Tesla Self-Driving Cars Safe?

The idea of cars on autopilot seems like the stuff of science fiction. In pushing the boundaries of technology, Tesla has pioneered self-driving cars, which are supposed to be safer and more efficient on roads. Yet, the question remains: “Are its self-driving cars safer?”

They can be, though there are some caveats to the safety of self-driving cars.

With the documentation of self-driving car accidents, there is much trepidation — and this is not just felt by prospective buyers. Even motorists driving around Tesla’s self-driving models maintain distance, anticipating self-driving car accidents waiting to happen.

On the other side of the discussion are Tesla owners who cite the accident statistics to be inconclusive. For this group, the numbers show that self-driving accidents occur at a similar frequency to other car accidents in Florida.

In this article, we will go into detail about autopilot safety when it comes to Tesla’s self-driving cars.

Are Tesla Self-Driving Cars Safe?
Are Tesla Self-Driving Cars Safe?

A Clarification on What it Means for Tesla’s Vehicles to Be on “Autopilot”

In common terms, autopilot means “without a driver or pilot.” Hence, any vehicle switched to its autopilot mode does not require the control of its driver.

This is the interpretation most have given Tesla’s autopilot system. However, upon closer inspection of how it operates, the interpretation may be inaccurate.

According to Interesting Engineering, Tesla unveiled its autopilot system in 2014. The system was part of the Tesla Model S, the first car of the company to be “self-driving.”

The early iterations of Tesla’s autopilot system allowed for autopilot disengagement. This meant that the driver could take control of the wheel when the situation required it. Other safety features of the car can also be overridden by whoever was behind the wheel.

Tesla’s autopilot system has gone leaps and bounds, with more safety features controlled by the software. Nevertheless, the driver still retains a bit of control behind the wheel.

With this considered, we can see that Tesla vehicles equipped with the autopilot system are not fully autonomous. In fact, the Society of Automotive Engineers dub Tesla’s Model S and X as only partly autopilot vehicles.

To date, Tesla has yet to iron out issues in the self-driving system that must be solved for the company to get the green light needed to make cars fully autopilot.

In short, Tesla vehicles do not fully go on autopilot. More precisely, Tesla’s autopilot system is more like an advanced driver-assist system. This means that while autopilot is engaged, drivers still need to be attentive with their hands behind the wheel.

The Autopilot System and Self-Driving Car Accidents

The concerns surrounding the safety of self-driving cars stem from self-driving car accidents. The first documented accident transpired in 2018.

According to a report from Reuters, a driver inside a Tesla Model S crashed into a fire truck. During this time, the investigation discovered that the autopilot was engaged.

The incident caught the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The federal association, prompted by the incident, launched an investigation to determine the limitations of Tesla’s autopilot system.

Since the incident, the NHTSA has investigated 12 similar self-driving car accidents. In all incidents, Tesla models were involved, and the autopilot feature was engaged.

While the number is fairly insignificant compared to that of DUI accidents, it is still a cause of concern for the administration and drivers.

What Led to the Self-Driving Car Accidents?

Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, has been very vocal about the limitations of the autopilot software in the new Models S and X. He has also gone public in saying that engineers at Tesla are working double-time to address these issues.

In the data gathered by the NHTSA, there were commonalities in the circumstances surrounding the incidents. In all 12 incidents, the cars were traveling in limited visual environments. Some self-driving accidents occurred at night while others were on the road when the fog was thick. The 2018 incident that kicked off the investigation, for instance, found that the Tesla Model S was driving towards glaring sunlight.

Data from other incidents also yielded information about the driving environment. A handful of the self-driving incidents investigated by the NHTSA also occurred in city streets. Interestingly, while Tesla’s autopilot has been designed for all driving environments, it has limited functionality on city streets.

Overall, the data seems to point towards limited visibility and city environments to be factors for many self-driving car accidents documented.

Wrapping Up: Tesla Self-Driving Cars Are as Safe as Any Vehicle

As mentioned earlier, Tesla’s autopilot system is an advanced driver-assist system. With that in mind, exercise caution when you are behind the wheel of a Model S or X as though you are driving any other vehicle.

Self-driving car accidents may not be common, but they do occur. If you find yourself in one, you need a personal injury lawyer to sort through liabilities.

Call us now at Fetterman and Associates if you need counsel and representation following a car accident in Florida.


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