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Lawsuit: Tesla autopilot feature accelerated on its own, causing crash

Joseph Geha, The Mercury News on

Published in Automotive News

“While fully autonomous driving may still be aspirational, Tesla designs, manufactures, and markets features on the Model S as technologically-advanced, if interim, steps on the road to fully computerized driving,” the suit adds.

“Even the most successful and sophisticated computer companies in history — Microsoft and Apple among them — regularly release computers and software with bugs, glitches, and unanticipated problems that cause their computers to unexpectedly crash, malfunction, or work differently than intended,” the suit continues.

But software and hardware bugs or glitches “are magnified exponentially when a computer controls a half-ton moving machine capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 4 seconds,” the suit continues.

“Our primary concern, as always, is making sure the vehicles on our roads are safe, and that they perform the way consumers expect them to perform and the way Tesla represents that they’ll perform,” Wright said.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond Thursday to an email requesting comment.

The complaint claims that many car crashes and “perhaps more than 20 deaths are attributable” to Tesla’s autopilot system, and noted several instances in which Tesla drivers have been killed when the system was engaged, including in the Bay Area.


One of the more widely publicized cases involved a San Mateo man who was driving his Tesla Model X with autopilot engaged on Highway 101 in Mountain View when the car veered left and struck a damaged crash attenuator at roughly 70 mph, killing the driver. The car’s battery also ignited after the crash.

After investigating that crash, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized the driver for likely playing a game on his cell phone with his hands off the steering wheel when the car crashed. It also faulted Tesla for designing an autopilot system with “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement, which facilitated the driver’s complacency and inattentiveness.”

This month’s lawsuit says Tesla CEO Elon Musk has boasted about the autopilot’s capabilities, stating at a recent conference that “essentially complete autonomy” could be accomplished “with the hardware that is in Tesla today” with some software improvements.

“The dark side of the system, however, is that Tesla’s Autopilot system is at best a work in progress,” the suit adds, “and it has a history of dangerous and even fatal consequences for its users.”

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