A news report posted on CNN.com reports that Tesla’s Autopilot was involved in another fatal motorcycle accident, and safety advocates are raising questions about Tesla’s advanced driver-assist system safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened another probe concerning Tesla’s Autopilot. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it has already launched several investigations into other motorcycle and non-motorcycle accidents over the past few years.
The three fatal motorcycle accidents all transpired in a similar way- a Tesla with Autopilot active struck a motorcycle in the morning hours. These motorcycle versus Tesla crashes raise important, previously asked questions about whether or not the drivers who use these driving systems remain adequately engaged and ready to take control of the vehicles when necessary. New research shows that drivers take their eyes off the road ahead more often when using driving systems like Autopilot, and many Autopilot users think their vehicles completely drive by themselves.
Tesla’s Autopilot system is designed to keep the vehicle in its traffic lane while moving at a set speed. Tesla drivers who use the Autopilot system must maintain their hands on the steering wheel. Tesla stated that its system also uses a camera to decide a driver’s inattentiveness, detects torque on the steering wheel, and uses alarms to remind operators to keep watching the roadway.
In the most recent Tesla-motorcycle accident, a motorcyclist was riding her motorcycle in Palm Beach County at around 2:10 AM when an alleged impaired driver who was using Tesla’s Autopilot struck the rear of her motorcycle. She was thrown off of her motorcycle and crashed into the Tesla’s windshield. According to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, she was killed in the collision. The NHTSA requested from Tesla the driver-assist crash data, which revealed that Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged just before the crash.
In a separate motorcycle accident involving a Tesla’s Autopilot, a man riding his Harley-Davidson at around 1:09 AM was rear-ended by the Tesla. According to motorcycle advocates, these recent motorcycle accidents and other crashes point to the Tesla system does not operate correctly. Motorcycle safety advocates are worried that Tesla’s Autopilot software cannot see motorcycles. The safety advocates also stated that the government’s vehicle safety regulations fail to adequately protect motorcycle riders, and additional steps must be taken to protect motorcyclists.
Rob Dingman, the CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association, stated that inattentive drivers have harmed motorcyclists for years, and this issue is unacceptable. He also asked if the Autopilot system cannot see motorcycles on the road, how can it see a pedestrian?
The NHTSA stated that there is no commercially available motor vehicle for sale that can drive itself, and he encourages drivers to use driver assistance technologies properly.
Last summer Tesla fans tried to defend the auto manufacturer after one critic posted a video showing a Tesla vehicle with driver-assist technology crashing into child-size mannequins. Tesla failed to respond to a request for comment for that story.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety discovered that 19 of 23 motor vehicles that were tested for pedestrian detection achieved an “advanced” or “superior” rating during the day, but only four vehicles were given a “superior” rating after night testing. Over half of the vehicles were given a basic score or no credit.
Tesla’s vehicle owners’ manuals do caution owners that certain factors can impact Autopilot’s performance, such as bad visibility.
The American Motorcyclist Association stated that driver-assist technologies have the potential to detect motorcycles and prevent accidents and has urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to test for motorcycle detection. However, the NHTSA does not test for motorcycle detection. For many years, the American Motorcyclist Association has sounded the alarm that emerging driving technologies do not adequately detect motorcycles, and if the issue is not corrected soon, the consequences will be disastrous for motorcyclists.
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