The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its final report regarding two fatal crashes involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot, Tesla’s driverless car feature. Tesla takes some criticism in the report, which pointed out that the Autopilot feature was a factor in both crashes. The drivers behind the wheel over-relied on the automation feature and the operational design of Autopilot. These accidents call in to question the safety of driverless cars.
Six Levels of Autonomy
In order to push forward and standardize driverless vehicle testing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has defined six levels of car autonomy:
- Level O: No Autonomy—driver performs all driving tasks
- Level 1: Driver Assistance—vehicle is mainly controlled by the driver, but there are some driver assistance features
- Level 2: Partial Automation—the vehicle has combined automation features such as acceleration and steering, but the driver must be engaged and control the vehicle and monitor the environment at all times
- Level 3: Conditional Automation—a driver is not required to monitor the environment but must be prepared to take over the vehicle at all times with notice
- Level 4: High Automation—the vehicle is capable of performing all functions under certain conditions, but the driver may have the option of taking control of the vehicle
- Level 5: Full Automation—the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions, and the driver has the option to take control.
Level of Autonomy in Current Vehicles
Most vehicles on the market fall into Level 0 and have no automation. However, there are many cars on the market that fall in Level 1 and contain some driver assistance features such as lane keeper assist and crash prevention braking. Adaptive cruise control would also fall into this category.
A Level 2 vehicle can assist with braking and steering at the same time. GM’s Super Cruise is an example of a Level 2 vehicle. The driver can take their hands off the steering wheel, but cameras are aimed at their eyes. If they take their eyes off the road, the system disables itself. Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which can be found on the Model S, X, and 3, is another example of Level 2 automation.
Issues with Driverless Cars
Even with safety drivers behind the wheel, there have still been accidents caused by driverless vehicles. In 2018, there was an accident in Arizona where a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian. The accident was partially blamed on the fact that the car did not recognize a jaywalking pedestrian as an object to avoid. Part of the blame was placed on the safety driver who did not have her eyes on the road at the time and was, therefore, unable to react if the car did not. It is a struggle for drivers to give up the wheel and keep their focus on the road at the same time. When you are not controlling the vehicle, it is difficult to keep your attention on the road. The temptation to do other things is great.
Contact an Experienced Accident Attorney
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you should consult with an experienced Florida accident attorney. Gregg Goldfarb has been helping car accident victims for over 20 years. Contact us online or call us at 305-374-7000 to schedule a free consultation.