By: Allan M. Siegel
Tesla Motors is one of several car companies that is currently testing
self-driving cars – although the technology still has not been perfected.
Sadly, on May 7, 2016, the first self-driving car fatality occurred during
the testing of an autonomous Tesla vehicle, in Williston, Florida. The
victim was the operator of the vehicle itself, Joshua Brown. Tesla promptly
reported the incident to U.S. regulators, but the collision only recently
became public knowledge.
The Tesla vehicle drove right into the middle of a tractor-trailer, which
was turning in front of the Tesla vehicle. The Tesla vehicle did not recognize
the tractor-trailer as an obstacle; the reason may be that the color of
the tractor-trailer was similar to the color of the sky. That said, Tesla
does not claim that its self-driving cars are, in fact, completely self-driving;
the person in the driver’s seat is supposed to keep their hands
on the wheel and pay attention to the road at all times. Moreover, there
is evidence that Brown, the operator of the Tesla vehicle, may have been
unsafely watching a movie on a portable DVD player at the time of the
Self-driving cars hold out the promise of improved convenience and safety
on America’s roads, and may lead to a significant reduction in
automobile collision injuries and death. Unfortunately, the Tesla crash is a reminder that
the technology is not perfect and will require continued human oversight
within the “self-driving” car, to prevent avoidable collisions.