It seems that Tesla cannot escape the spotlight of news attention. According to Slate, a man was recently saved when his Tesla Model X drove him to the hospital when he was experiencing a pulmonary embolism. However, there is another story that you may be more familiar with, in which a man was killed using his Tesla’s Autopilot system in Florida. So there remains a question: is Tesla’s Autopilot provide more safety benefits, or more unneeded risks?
The Benefits of Tesla’s Autopilot
Elon Musk (Tesla CEO) praises the Autopilot feature claiming that that it will be inherently safer to use Autopilot, and for a good reason. In theory, removing the variable of human error by using autonomous cars should reduce the number of car crashes by 95 percent. This could mean the elimination of crashes resulting from drunk or distracted driving, and would allow drivers to avoid the stress of driving.
The Autopilot system in Tesla’s cars is rather high-tech. It uses a series of cameras and sensors to detect objects in the road, where the lines of a car lane end, it can even regulate speed and change lanes on its own. Using these sensors, Autopilot can also detect when other vehicles are too close and will slow down or stop if the system detects that something is in the way.
So, it would make sense that, in an emergency situation, a Tesla car with Autopilot could drive you to the hospital. In the case of Joshua Naelly, that is exactly what happened. In fact, the doctors who treated Naelly said that he was very lucky to be alive after his ordeal, and that his Tesla Model X probably saved his life.
The Drawbacks of Autopilot
Tesla informs its customers that they should maintain their full attention on the road and keep both hands on the wheel when Autopilot is on. Unfortunately, this does not keep people from distracting themselves when they use Autopilot. The main problem is that if there is even one flaw in the Autopilot system, then the driver’s inattention could allow a car to cause a crash that could and should have been avoided.
This is precisely what happened in the case of Joshua Brown, who died while his car was in Autopilot mode. Brown car was driving down a road in Florida when a tractor trailer pulled out in front of Brown’s Tesla. Brown’s car failed to differentiate the trailer’s white sides from the sky and collided with the trailer, killing Brown.
The simple truth is that there will be no way of determining what effect autonomous vehicles will have on society until they are in full use. From an objective point of view, even if autonomous cars do not completely stop motor vehicle deaths, it may be worth the risk of a systems failure if autonomous cars can at least reduce the number of traffic deaths. As the technology evolves, people will continue to ask themselves if they trust an autonomous car more than they trust drivers to be responsible. As it is, negligent drivers cause the most crashes.