If you have ever been on a California highway during rush hour, then you know that sometimes the most dangerous road hazards are other drivers. People can be reckless, distracted, or just oblivious. But what happens when the car is driving itself? Recent strides in automotive science have brought a new technology to America’s highways: autopiloting cars.
Recently, a speeding Tesla ran a red light and crashed into the side of a Honda Civic in Gardena, California. The impact killed two passengers of the Civic. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) assigned a special investigation team that has inspected 13 accidents involving the Tesla Autopilot system. Though it is not yet clear if the car was in Autopilot for this specific accident, this team’s involvement shows a very real possibility that is the case.
What is Autopilot?
As we become more technologically advanced, some car companies have looked to introduce computer programming to their car models. Tesla is a car manufacturer who is leading the pack on this front, as they strive to create a 100% self-driving car. While this vision has not come to life, Tesla has succeeded in creating advanced driver assistance technology, which they call Autopilot.
Some features of Autopilot include auto-steering, traffic-aware cruise control, and automatic lane changing. Though this technology is smart, vehicles featuring Autopilot still need active supervision from the driver behind the wheel. Before activating Autopilot, Tesla drivers need to agree to “keep hands on the steering wheel at all times” and always “maintain control and responsibility of the vehicle.”
Essentially, the technology is intended for use by a fully attentive driver.
The problem with Autopilot
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, he true problem with autopilot is not the technology behind it. It is the driver’s overconfidence in Autopilot’s capabilities. In the case of the Gardena accident, the crash was a result of the Tesla running a red light. Meanwhile, Autopilot does not currently have the capability to read traffic signs or lights.
As automatic driving technology becomes more available, we may see an increase in accidents related to Autopilot and other self-driving technology. Vehicle regulation will need to evolve with the times to keep the roads safe for everyone.