A recent fatal accident involving Tesla's autopilot program has brought a troubling reality to light. The company was likely fully aware that its autopilot systems had difficulty detecting and reacting to certain traffic features, reports NPR, but released the system anyway.
In 2016, a driver was killed after a Tesla vehicle drove into a semi truck trailer. The collision sheared off the top of the car, killing the driver. Tesla argued that the chances of a fatal accident with their system were lower than one without.
Then a similar accident occurred in 2019 with a different model Tesla. According to Tesla, the white of the trailer and brightness of the sky confused the program, which registered the similar tones as open road. Tesla also noted that the driver himself hadn't noticed the trailer, as the brakes weren't applied manually. The driver had turned on the autopilot feature ten seconds prior to the accident, giving him little time to consider that this decision might kill him. He might not have reason to believe that a program so heavily advertised and permitted by law could potentially be fatal, especially three years after an identical accident had made the news. Ideally, Tesla would fix this error to prevent copycat accidents before releasing later models of the car and its autopilot program.
The late victim's wife is suing Tesla.