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Michael Leizerman
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Report: NTSB Says Plenty of Blame to Go Around with Tesla/Big Rig Accident

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The National Transportation Safety Board released a final crash report last week concerning a side-impact collision between a tractor-trailer and a Tesla vehicle equipped with autonomous driving mode—resulting in the death of the Tesla driver and heightened scrutiny of the auto manufacturer’s self-driving software. While the report confirmed what many assumed—shortcomings in the “beta” autopilot system prevented the car from braking when the truck turned across a lane of oncoming traffic—there is new evidence coming to light that says the driver of the truck was partially to blame as well.

The crash occurred in May of 2016, when a westbound 18-wheeler hauling blueberries made a left turn across U.S. 27 near Williston, Florida. The Tesla, traveling 74 mph eastbound on the highway, impacted the side of the trailer, went underneath the undercarriage and had its roof torn off—all with no signs of slowing down, braking or any other type of evasive action. The report states that the driver of the auto was not aware of the truck, having put his car in autopilot mode. As for the failure of the Tesla system, the up-and-coming auto manufacturer claimed that the car’s cameras had trouble recognizing the white side of the truck against the brightly lit sky. Additionally, since the bumper and front end of the car never came in contact with any aspect of the truck, sensors did not detect a crash.

While the driver of the truck, Frank Baressi, claims that the Tesla operator had been watching a Harry Potter movie rather than paying attention to the road (no evidence exists to substantiate this claim), more details from the NTSB have now revealed that not only did the truck driver fail to yield to the oncoming Tesla before turning across oncoming highway traffic, but also that the driver had recently used marijuana. Additionally, it has been shown that the driver of the auto, Joshua Brown posted YouTube videos of his Tesla self-driving while he remained hands-off in the car. Certainly all these issues combined to create this otherwise avoidable tragedy.

 

Tesla

Even with significant data pointing to driver errors made with each vehicle, very little seems to be bearing down on the shoulders of Tesla. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), who also analyzed aspects of the accident, determined that the Tesla Autopilot system had worked to the degree that it was designed—noting that the system was not designed to alert for vehicles crossing the path of the Tesla. The NHTSA also found that the crash rate of Tesla cars with the Autopilot system was 40 percent lower than those without, further supporting the company’s claims that their system offers a “statistically significant improvement in safety.”

Such claims by the forward thinking auto manufacturer are significant in that they are also one of the leaders in the current race to bring driverless technology to the trucking industry, as well as viable electric-powered trucks/tractors. While Cummins has actually been the first to develop an electric heavy-duty truck cab that’s powered by a 140 kWh battery pack and capable of traveling 100 miles without a charge, Tesla has promised to unveil their electric truck in October and one must wonder how soon a feature like Autopilot will follow.

Michael Leizerman is a truck accident attorney specializing in catastrophic multi-axle collisions. He understands all facets of truck accident litigation; including federal regulations, drug and alcohol testing and hours of service requirements. He has authored a treatise entitled Litigating Truck Accident Cases and often educates other attorneys on trucking laws and regulations. You can learn more about Leizerman & Associates by visiting their website, www.truckaccidents.com.