NTSB Delray Beach Accident Report Raises Questions on Tesla’s Self-Driving Software

A report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding a March 1staccident in Delray Beach involving a Tesla equipped with an autonomous driving feature called Autopilot recently found that the vehicle’s system was engaged at the time of the accident and that the driver took his hands off the wheel for the last eight seconds prior to the fatal accident that killed him.  The Delray Beach crash was the third fatal crash of a Tesla within the past year in South Florida. This accident, as well as some of the previous accidents that have occurred in both Florida and elsewhere across the country, raises new questions regarding how reliable systems like Tesla’s Autopilot are and whether drivers are over-relying on them in believing they make a vehicle safer than it actually is.  This is a concerning development given the role that this over-reliance on technology by drivers has been directly related to numerous accidents throughout the country in the past several years.

The Delray Beach Accident Involved in the NTSB Investigation

The accident in Delray Beach occurred when a 2018 Tesla Model 3 struck a semi-truck in the early morning on March 1 of this year on State Highway 441 in Delray Beach.  At 6:17 a.m. on that day, the semi-truck was attempting to turn left when the Tesla, which was determined to have been speeding, drove directly underneath the semi-truck as it was trying to complete the left turn. The 50-year-old man behind the wheel of the Tesla was killed in the crash and the vehicle had its roof sheared off as it traveled directly underneath the semi-truck.

The NTSB’s Findings Regarding the Delray Beach Accident

A Sun-Sentinel report on the NTSB investigation and its preliminary findings concluded that the Autopilot system was engaged just before the crash occurred.  Preliminary data and video from the 2018 Tesla Model 3 reviewed by the NTSB show the driver turned on his vehicle’s Autopilot system about 10 seconds before the crash.  For the last eight seconds before the accident until the time of actual impact, the system did not detect that the driver had his hands on the wheel at any point. In addition, neither the system itself nor the driver made any attempt to stop before the collision occurred.  The system had not been activated by the driver at any point other than immediately before the crash according to testing performed by Tesla.  The investigation also found that the Tesla’s driver was traveling 68 mph at the time of the accident on a road where the speed limit was 55 mph.

Takeaways from the NTSB’s Report

The Delray Beach accident, in addition to similar accidents around the country, reflects that drivers are clearly relying on theseautomatic driving systems more than intended by the manufacturers.  The driver in this most recent incident in Delray Beach did not even have his hands on the wheel for the last eight seconds before he was killed.  Perhaps he thought that the Autopilot system had the ability to alter the course of his vehicle, stop the car, or otherwise prevent the accident that ultimately occurred.  Since some of the earlier accidents in which the functioning and capabilities of its Autopilot system appeared to be an issue, Tesla modified Autopilot to more frequently alert drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. Nevertheless, this still has not adequately addressed concerns expressed both by the NTSB as well as safety advocates that even the most-advanced autonomous vehicle systems available on the market today are not nearly as advanced as auto manufacturers make them out to be.

Contact Schwed, Adams & McGinley 

At Schwed Adams & McGinley, P.A., our experienced personal injury attorneys have more than 150 years of combined legal experience and many of our firm’s cases stem from motor vehicle accidents in which our clients have suffered catastrophic injuries or have been the victim of a wrongful death.  Our attorneys have dealt with some of the most complex legal issues and factual scenarios imaginable in attempting to recover maximum damages for our clients, including incidents in which self-driving vehicles or systems may be involved.  No matter the type of accident or scenario, contact our experienced attorneys at contact@schwedlawfirm.com or (877) 694-6079 for a free consultation today if you have been injured or a loved one has been killed or injured in a motor vehicle accident in Florida.