Feds release report on Florida autonomous vehicle accident

A commercial vehicle accident in Florida attracted national attention, since the crash involved a so-called “autonomous” vehicle. Federal authorities actually investigated the cause of the accident and determined that the automated system bore some, but not all, of the fault for the crash. The accident involved an autonomous car crashing in to a large truck.

As the committee which prepared the report discussed, an “autonomous” vehicle is not equipped to truly operate without a driver, as if passengers can simply sit in the backseat and watch the car go. Like a commercial airplane, the car can do a lot of things itself, but the system has limits and requires a driver who can pay attention and make emergency adjustments as necessary.

In this case, the driver of a large truck was faulted for not yielding the right of way and instead turning right in to the path of the vehicle. However, the reporting committee also concluded that the driver of the autonomous vehicle was not using the autonomous features of the vehicle correctly and was relying too much on it. The report faulted the vehicle’s software, because it allowed this scenario.

The report also criticized the notion that the vehicle’s system assumed the driver was paying attention simply because the driver kept his hands on the wheel. Nevertheless, no government agency has called for a recall and concluded that, generally speaking, the software worked correctly in that it did what it was designed to do.

As more people use autonomous vehicles, legal issues are likely to emerge and may re-shape the very nature of auto accident liability and insurance. One thing that ought to remain clear, though, is that Florida residents who get hurt in a commercial vehicle accident that is not their fault should be able to pursue compensation for their losses.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Driver in Tesla crashed relied excessively on Autopilot, but Tesla shares some blame, federal panel finds,” Jim Puzzanghera, Sept. 12, 2017.

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