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Who’s At Fault in a Self-Driving Tesla Accident?

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Self-driving cars offer a path to the future of transportation. However, there is work to do before self-driving vehicles become the main automobiles on the road. Regulations work to meet rapidly growing technology. And, technology works to iron out autonomous driving kinks. Accidents can still occur. Currently, Tesla stands as the top of the self-driving car manufacturers. Although the company touts impressive safety figures, Tesla self-driving car accidents have received much press. The question remains, who’s at fault in a self-driving Tesla accident?

The differences between AutoPilot and fully self-driving Tesla vehicles

Tesla would prefer the liability in a self-driving accident remain with the driver, as the company doesn’t sell fully autonomous cars to the public yet. But one of the newer, more enticing features on Tesla cars is AutoPilot. Although Tesla publicly states that a driver should never rely on AutoPilot, the feature allows self-driving benefits like handless steering, braking, and acceleration. Tired drivers may erroneously allow the system to take over.

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Tesla’s AutoPilot feature eases the burden of drivers but still requires driver supervision. Currently, a Tesla self-driving car accident won’t involve a fully autonomous vehicle, as these vehicles aren’t yet on the road. Varied differences between AutoPilot and fully self-driving capability remain. AutoPilot, which comes as a built-in perk in current vehicle models, cannot take over vehicle operations. The cost of AutoPilot is already factored into a Tesla car.

Fully self-driving Tesla models aren’t yet available to the general public. When these cars become available, full self-driving capabilities will be an add-on feature and will present significant cost increases. A fully self-driving Tesla will not require a human operator. Car owners in fully self-driving cars will plug in their trip destination, and the car will take care of all vehicle operations.  

The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) agrees that currently, a driver must remain behind the wheel of a car. Although the organization estimates that in 2025, fully self-driving vehicles will be available to the general public. NHTSA believes that once the technology is fine-tuned and regulations are in place, self-driving cars will benefit our lives. Human error will decrease and the environment will see a great reduction in carbon emissions. 

Nevertheless, drivers who allow AutoPilot to take control may find themselves in dangerous, traumatic Tesla self-driving accidents. As of March 2022, there are 750,000 Tesla vehicles with the AutoPilot feature on U.S. roads. Based on Tesla’s own internal safety reports, the safety statistics continue to vastly improve. In 2021, Tesla recorded only one crash for every 4.97 million miles driven in a Tesla vehicle. 

History of Tesla Car Accidents

It’s tough to determine how Tesla’s self-driving car accident statistics compare to less autonomous cars on the road. As of December 2021, 284,000,000 registered vehicles traveled U.S. roads. Tesla cars make up less than one percent of cars on the road today.

However, the Tesla accidents that have occurred have received much media attention. In each, the questions of criminal and tort (civil) liability arise. In 2021, the NHTSA launched an investigation into 22 accidents involving Tesla self-driving cars. The most public Tesla self-driving car accidents include the following:

  • In 2019, Los Angeles, California resident Kevin Riad slammed through a red light in his Tesla and killed two people. He claimed Autopilot went awry, and now faces felony charges.
  • In April 2021, while on autopilot, a 2019 Tesla Model S killed its two occupants–neither of whom sat behind the wheel. An estimated 30,000 gallons of water were used to put out the subsequent vehicle fire.
  • In August 2021, a Tesla crashed in Orlando, Florida, prompting an NHTSA investigation.
  • In January 2022, a viral YouTube video captured a Full Self-Driving Beta Model Tesla crashing into a pole.

Determining Liability in a Tesla Self-Driving Car Accident

Until self-driving cars rule our roads, determining liability in a self-driving car accident partially lands with a driver. Tesla vehicles involved in self-driving car accidents have proven driver error or over-reliance on AutoPilot features to mean driver liability. However, the NHTSA investigation may determine Tesla faces partial responsibility in self-driving crashes as well. Tesla could face fines of up to $115 million.

Experts believe that as self-driving cars improve and vehicles become more autonomous, liability may shift from the driver to the manufacturer. This may occur in the near future with mass production of autonomous vehicles expected to ramp up. Ultimately, the NHTSA will have to discern what federal safety regulations to set on driver and manufacturer responsibility. As it stands, liability is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Manufacture liability may stem from malfunctions such as:

  • Errant Autopilot steering
  • Locked Brakes
  • Automatic acceleration that doesn’t allow driver override

Driver liability may be determined as a result of:

  • Over-reliance on AutoPilot
  • Reckless Driving
  • Driving Under the Influence
  • Failure to yield

What to Do If You’re Involved in an Accident with a Tesla Self-Driving Car

If you find yourself involved in an accident with a Tesla self-driving car, you should follow the same steps you would after any car accident:

  • Call the police and file a report
  • Take photo and video evidence of the accident
  • See a Doctor in the immediate aftermath of your accident
  • Research and contact a reputable, honest car accident lawyer

Insurance companies may feel reluctant to pay out settlements for victims of a self-driving car accident. These companies may prefer the onus lie with the car’s manufacturer. Tesla vehicles are equipped with top-of-the-line automated safety features. In rare instances, Tesla has faced fines and court settlements as a result of accidents involving Tesla cars.

As the technology behind self-driving cars evolves, so do the regulations surrounding these vehicles. There isn’t a clear-cut, across-the-board answer to who’s at fault in a Tesla self-driving car accident. Liability in these accidents will be determined by circumstance.

 If a Tesla car malfunctions, the manufacturer may be liable. Driver error, road conditions, and driving under the influence may lead to driver responsibility. If you find yourself involved in an accident with a Tesla self-driving car, seek legal advice to explore the best ways to heal and move forward. Contact an attorney who will expertly guide you down the right legal path.

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