Vision Zero road safety initiatives in Florida and around the country aim to eliminate traffic deaths completely within a few decades. Their success hinges on the adoption and effectiveness of self-driving cars and autonomous safety systems that promise to eliminate the human error that causes most motor vehicle accidents. Many luxury automobiles are already equipped with advanced autonomous features. Still, the results of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation suggest that they may not make the nation’s roads any safer.
NHTSA began to question the safety benefits of autonomous vehicle technology in August 2021 when several Tesla vehicles equipped with the carmaker’s controversial Autopilot system were involved in accidents with emergency vehicles that were stationary and had their lights flashing. A recent update to the NHTSA investigation reveals that four people were killed between May and September 2022 in motor vehicle accidents caused by three cars and a pickup truck being controlled by autonomous technology. Three of the vehicles involved were Teslas.
Some road safety experts believe Tesla’s advertising is largely to blame for the many Autopilot-related accidents. Tesla owner’s manuals urge drivers to remain alert and keep their hands on the wheel when the Autopilot system is engaged. Still, the company’s commercials portray the technology capable of operating an automobile in a busy urban environment without human involvement. In September 2022, a group of Tesla owners filed a class-action lawsuit against the company for making false claims about the Autopilot system. Tesla owner Elon Musk maintains that his vehicles are safe and people are getting the wrong idea because they never hear about all of the lives Autopilot saves.
Accidents involving vehicles with autonomous systems like Autopilot are often blamed on faulty technology, but human error is really to blame. Drivers owe all other road users a duty of care to do all that they reasonably can avoid accidents and injuries. That duty of care requires them to be aware of their surroundings at all times, even if their vehicles have self-driving technology. If Tesla drivers followed the instructions in their owner’s manuals, most Autopilot-related accidents would be avoided.