Update September 27: Five police officers injured by Tesla have filed a lawsuit.
According to the suit: “The officers want to hold Tesla accountable, and force Tesla to publicly acknowledge and immediately correct the known defects inherent in its Autopilot and collision avoidance systems, particularly as those impact the ongoing safety of our nation’s first responders.” The lawsuit claims Tesla’s autopilot system has been linked to at least 12 crashes in the United States involving first responders working active scenes with flashing lights.
Texas police officers are suing Tesla on a principle it “over serves” intoxicating information to car owners, which (like over serving alcohol) makes the company as liable as a bar or bartender for crashes.
Lately there have been multiple stories about drivers pulled from Tesla who are sleeping drunk and try to claim it’s ok because they were told by Tesla and its CEO the car could drive itself.
These five officers would thus be entirely correct to emphasize a need to “publicly acknowledge” known defects and stop such a poisonous scam.
Here’s just one example: recently in California (September 21) a driver asleep in a Tesla was reported by a car behind her (who happened to be her husband) and police used flashing lights on a vehicle in front to force a stop.
In radio transmissions the troopers could be heard describing how the car was driving itself with the unconscious driver in it. “The reporting party is advising that his wife is unconscious in a Tesla. The vehicle is driving itself,” the emergency dispatcher said on the recordings. “It ended up TC’ing (traffic collision) into the right shoulder wall, and, uh, still continuing.”The dispatcher then added that the suspect’s husband was following the Tesla in his Volkswagen car.
The Tesla hit the wall at low speed? The sleeping driver was awoken, given a DUI test and failed. And now onto the actual blog post…
The first Tesla “Autopilot” crash fatality was January 2016. It crashed into the back of a high visibility service vehicle with flashing safety lights.
Did you know? Have you read about it before?
Tesla at that time (again, we’re talking about January 2016) made bold statements it would be the one to take decisive and quick action to prevent it happening again.
Company founder Elon Musk said the firm was in the process of making improvements to its auto pilot system aimed at dramatically reducing the number of crashes blighting the model S. Autopilot can keep a constant speed, keep the car in lane and apply the brakes automatically. Musk has said that he wants to make improvements to Autopilot since last year, but he was told it couldn’t be done for various technical reasons. He said: “We really pushed hard on questioning all of those assumptions over the past few months. “It was just a very hard problem. Nobody else could solve this.”
Since then, Teslas repeatedly crashed in the same basic way causing injury and death, with no real updates from them to explain why they keep failing while others do not seem to have the high crash risk of Tesla.
Finally in August 2021 the US government announced it would look into this as negligence by Tesla, which seems ridiculously late when it could have been an immediate reaction to help avoid many preventable deaths.
NHTSA says it has identified 11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control have hit vehicles at scenes where first responders have used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of hazards. The agency announced the action Monday in a posting on its website.
And then September 2021 the “Truth_Tesla” disinformation account on Twitter abruptly announced Tesla could now detect an emergency light and slow down for safety.
There’s quite a bit to unpack in that one tweet.
Of course this begs the question why the company waited five years? Why take sooooo long?
Why did so many people have to die first?
The answer seems to be a government action has scared Tesla into action, unlike the loss of human lives.
More to the point, “Truth_Tesla” points to a GAO report and shares a tiny snippet of the following paragraph:
These data indicate that there are relatively few fatalities and injuries from
crashes involving emergency vehicles in general. Our analysis of 2018 FARS and CRSS data shows that overall, there were 112 fatalities from crashes involving emergency vehicles, representing 0.3 percent of all traffic fatalities that year. The total number of traffic injuries involving an emergency vehicle in use was estimated to be about 8,000, or 0.3
percent of all estimated traffic injuries that year. Further, our review of the separate “related factors” data variable to identify emergency responders involved in crashes found that out of 14 individuals who were either emergency services personnel or law enforcement officers involved in a fatal crash in 2018, 11 were killed and 3 had non-fatal injuries.
The simple logic here should be if you can make a minor engineering change to save a life, would you make that change? The answer has to be yes.
However, at Tesla the answer seems to have been a big NO for FIVE YEARS despite many crashes.
Looking closer at the Tesla announcement, it also has caveats.
…detects lights from an emergency vehicle when using Autosteer at night on a high speed road…
Has to be on a “high speed” road at night time only? If it only functions on highways at night, that’s basically a sensor for lights where there are no other lights, which is like not being any kind of real flashing lights sensor at all (just a basic light sensor).
Important here to remember that the January 2016 fatality from running into emergency vehicle lights was… during the day.
If you follow all of the GAO analysis, they’re showing a lot of time and energy has been spent since the 1990s to get to a zero crash report. Tesla in 2016 should have sent alarm bells off, and certainly by 2018 should have been in serious trouble.
Now consider how “Truth_Tesla” offers a value system that argues if only a small percentage of people are dying or injured then why bother looking at Tesla being a cause at all. They literally say this in a tweet:
NHTSA is only aware of 17 such Ambulance injuries since 2018 that involved Teslas (!), well below Tesla’s share of miles driven.
Imagine if a driver drove into a service vehicle and killed or injured someone, then got out of the car and said “in my defense that’s one person, a statistically insignificant number, so I should get to do this wrong thing many more times”… or “this terrible crash I just caused is well below my share of miles driven”.
Truth_Tesla then attempts a “please clap” for a minor engineering change long overdue; a neck-snapping flip from “why care about statistically insignificant events” to “everyone look over here and care about us because we did something easy”.