Tesla’s Autopilot system is making headlines in the U.S. and overseas regarding the terms “self driving” and “autopilot.” Tesla is an American automaker and energy storage company based in Palo Alto. Regulators fear that consumers may misconstrue the “autonomous” description of Tesla cars and expect the vehicle to drive itself entirely. An Ohio driver may have been watching a Harry Potter film in May 2016 when his Tesla equipped with Autopilot drove into a big-rig truck and he was killed. Self-driving car experts will help determine if the accident was due to user neglect or a defect in the product’s design.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Enforcement Guidance Bulletin 2016–02: Safety-Related Defects and Automated Safety Technologies (Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 185, September 23, 2016) states:
As the automobile industry moves toward fully automated (self-driving) vehicles and other innovative mobility solutions, NHTSA seeks to facilitate the advance of automated technologies that currently present safety improvements and that, in the future, are likely to improve safety and decrease the number of crashes, traffic fatalities, and serious injuries on U.S. roadways.
The NHTSA released the Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles Safety Assessment covering the following areas:
- Data Recording and Sharing
- System Safety
- Vehicle Cybersecurity
- Human Machine Interface
- Consumer Education and Training
- Registration and Certification
- Post-Crash Behavior
- Federal, State and Local Laws
- Ethical Considerations
- Operational Design Domain
- Object and Event Detection and Response
- Fall Back (Minimal Risk Condition)
- Validation Methods
Self-driving car experts are uniquely qualified to perform safety assessments of motor vehicle equipment. These engineering experts are knowledgeable in the likelihood of a hazard as well as the root cause. They are informed on federal regulations, industry standards, and codes and compliance regarding automotive safety. Their expert testimony often constitutes a determining factor in the outcome of litigation.