Driver Asleep at the Wheel Raises Safety Questions for Self-Driving Vehicles

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers discuss safety concerns of sleeping drivers of self-driving vehicles. A couple was driving on a busy California freeway recently when they noticed that the driver next to them was asleep behind the wheel. The sleeping motorist was riding in a Tesla self-driving car, which was traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour when the couple watched in disbelief as the driver slept. Eventually, the driver woke up and put his hands back on the wheel. While companies like Tesla, who are developing self-driving technology, say that these vehicles are capable of saving lives, safety organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggest that Tesla’s safety claims are misleading. The NHTSA asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Tesla’s claims.

According to documents acquired by the Freedom of Information Act, the NHTSA sent several subpoenas to Tesla after the company’s vehicles were involved in several high-profile car accidents. The documents also show that Tesla met with the NHTSA quarterly to provide regular updates about their Autopilot, over-the-air software, and crash reviews. They also took agency regulators on test drives in Tesla vehicles.

Misleading Safety Claims

In a 2018 blog post, Tesla claimed that the Model 3 had the lowest probability of injury of all vehicles tested by the NHTSA. The agency sent Elon Musk a letter, saying that it was inappropriate to compare the NHTSA’s frontal crash ratings or safety scores of two vehicles with over 250 pounds in weight difference. According to the agency, if a Model 3 crashed into an SUV, the larger, heavier SUV would be more likely to avoid injuries or fatalities, regardless of the Model 3’s frontal crash rating. As a result, wrote the agency, Tesla’s claim that the Model 3 had the lowest probability of injury is a misinterpretation of the safety data, and could mislead the public.

In 2013, Tesla claimed that their Model 3 had a combined safety record of 5.4 stars, even though the NHTSA only issued a maximum of 5 stars. The NHTSA responded by revising their guidelines to prevent automakers from fudging their safety numbers. The agency took Tesla’s 2018 blog post as a repeat offense, which is why the FTC was asked to investigate Tesla’s statements. If automakers fail to follow these guidelines, it could give them an unfair market advantage, according to the NHTSA.

Drivers need to understand that this technology is still developing and evolving. For example, when driving in multilevel parking lots, or areas where there is heavy traffic and pedestrians, the vehicles are not yet able to reliably read traffic lights or avoid a pedestrian who may unexpectedly cross the street. When operating a self-driving car, drivers must maintain control of the vehicle by keeping both hands on the steering wheel and pay attention to their surroundings.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Victims of Self-Driving Car Accidents 

If you were seriously injured in a car accident involving a self-driving car, you are urged to contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. We will thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and determine who is responsible for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Towson, allowing us to represent accident victims in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Southern Maryland, and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.