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Tesla Says Fault for Fatal Crash Lies with Brakes, Not Autopilot

Speaking to the Senate Commerce Committee, a representative of Tesla Motors said that the breakdown in its crash-prevention program, which led to a crash in Florida that killed 40-year-old Joshua Brown, was not the fault of its Autopilot technology but rather a problem with its automatic braking system. Reporting for the New York Times, July 29, 2016, Neal A. Boudette wrote, “It was not clear how or why Tesla considers the automatic braking system to be separate from Autopilot, which combines automated steering, adaptive cruise control and other features meant to avoid accidents.”

Could it be that Tesla’s explanation is simply an effort to preserve the company’s image in the face of increasing criticism? Tesla has always promoted itself as a technology company rather than an automobile manufacturer. In that context, a mechanical problem might be less damaging to the company’s reputation than a computer glitch, especially if a subcontractor is liable for the brakes.

Tesla is under intense scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Congress over the role its Autopilot system played in the crash that killed Mr. Brown, who died when his Tesla Model S failed to stop at an intersection and tore through the undercarriage of a passing tractor-trailer. According to the New York Times, “The company has previously said that neither the car’s Autopilot system nor Mr. Brown activated the brakes before the impact and noted that the radar and camera systems might have failed to detect the white truck against a bright sky.”

Critics have called Tesla’s rollout of Autopilot premature. The company had requested customers to beta-test the product while remaining alert and keeping both hands on the wheel. But there is mounting evidence that many drivers, including Mr. Brown, were overconfident in the technology and were lax in their attention while operating their cars in Autopilot mode.

Consumer Reports has called on Tesla to disable Autopilot until there is a way to require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel while using it. Meanwhile, Mobileye, the Israeli company that provides the image-processing technology for Autopilot, has suspended its relationship with Tesla because of reservations about how its technology is being used.

None of this is good news for Tesla, which must also answer to its shareholders, who are gambling that self-driving technology will improve safety, thereby increasing sales. But at this moment in time, it’s fair to ask whether Tesla is being responsible in promoting use of a system that may not be ready for the roadways.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident in Nassau and Suffolk counties, seek help from a medical professional right away and then contact Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia. Our experienced personal injury lawyers help injured parties pursue full compensation for their losses.