Self-Driving Cars Raise Safety Concerns

By now you’ve probably heard the headlines about the dangers of self-driving cars in light of the first fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle.

That crash took place on July 1, but more incidents involving the autopilot feature of Tesla vehicles have been reported since.

Just one day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started their investigation into the safety of Tesla’s self-driving mode, another non-fatal accident was reported outside of Pittsburgh.

In a recent interview with NPR, Wired magazine report Alex Davies discussed how Tesla’s autopilot feature works and what some of its safety issues are.

According to Davies, Tesla’s autopilot feature functions similarly to the advanced cruise control of other makes and models. Once you exceed 18 mph, drivers can activate the autopilot mode, where the car then uses cameras to read lane lines and sensors to keep appropriate distances from other vehicles.

But the technology does not seem to be working without complication.

According to Tesla, the fatal car crash occurred because the car’s sensor technology was not able to differentiate the bright white of a tractor trailer from the similarly white sky. While that makes sense for why the cameras would miss the oncoming vehicle, it does not explain why the radar could not detect an object.

However, Tesla has been clear that their technology is currently in its beta phase and safety and responsibility fall primarily on the driver.

“When you get a car with autopilot, autopilot is automatically turned off. You have to turn it on and in doing so effectively sign a box that says, hey, I know this is a beta feature,” says Davies. “I know that I, the driver, am ultimately responsible for the behavior of the car. I’m not going to take my eyes off the road. I’m not going to take my hands off the wheel.”

In response to safety questions from Gizmodo, Tesla said:

Anytime there is a significant accident, Tesla receives a crash detection alert. As is our practice with all collisions, we immediately reached out to the customer to make sure he was safe.

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