Tesla’s “Dangerously Defective” Autopilot Feature Faces Legal Claims
July 8, 2017
A lawsuit alleging that Tesla’s autopilot feature is “dangerously defective” was recently filed in California. Nearly 47,000 Tesla Model X and Model S owners who allege that Tesla misled them about the capabilities of the enhanced autopilot system are pursuing the suit in federal court. Not only is Tesla facing serious claims that it has misled consumers, but its vehicles have also been the culprits in recent fatal automobile accidents.
Tesla’s enhanced autopilot system claims to offer traffic aware cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and front and side collision warnings. But, owners of fourth quarter 2016 and first quarter 2017 X and S models allege that the only feature offered on time by the driver assist system was the traffic aware cruise control.
The lawsuit claims that Tesla failed to fulfill its promises and is essentially using its consumers as unknowing product beta-testers. Although the company told consumers that its vehicles offered top-of-the-line safety features, the reality seems to be that the vehicles are obsolete, offering fewer safety features than less-expensive cars being sold on the market.
In recent months, several automobile accidents in which drivers were using Tesla’s autopilot feature have occurred. Many of the accidents caused injuries, and some were even fatal. Although the autopilot feature was supposed to be able to recognize a collision risk caused by a stopped vehicle, in many cases it failed to do so and as a result, people were injured or died.
The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are both still investigating a fatal crash that occurred last year in Florida. The driver was operating a Model S vehicle when it collided with a semi-truck. Investigators are determining whether or not the autopilot feature failed to apply its automatic braking system or didn’t recognize the semi-truck as a stationary object. Whatever mechanical failure occurred, the accident resulted in the driver of the Tesla model losing his life.
While Tesla claims that its autopilot system is still in “beta testing,” too many consumers are operating its cars under the belief that its safety features have been reasonably and safely designed and are effective. When a vehicle is being beta-tested it means that a product can get into consumer hands and they can then report any problems. But in the case of Tesla’s vehicles, this is particularly concerning. Consumers are not testing a new phone model, they are testing a car. When a problem arises, it can quite obviously result in a serious car accident or a fatality.
There also appears to be a problem with Tesla’s marketing tactics. At times, company statements have seemed to claim that the vehicles can be entirely self-driving, meaning that operators don’t need to keep their hands on the steering wheel. But this is incorrect, since Tesla’s more recent statements indicate that it is unsafe for driver’s to take their hands off the wheel for longer periods of time.
Clearly there is still confusion around what Tesla’s autopilot feature is capable of and how operators can safely drive its vehicles. As the current lawsuit progresses, the fate of Tesla’s vehicles as well as its potentially misleading marketing tactics will be determined.
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