Tesla crash raises concerns about autonomous vehicle regulation

Fri Jul 1, 2016 9:29pm EDT
 
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By David Shepardson and Bernie Woodall

(Reuters) - The fatal crash of a Tesla Motors Inc Model S in Autopilot mode has turned up pressure on auto industry executives and regulators to ensure that automated driving technology is deployed safely.

The first such known accident, which occurred in Florida in May, has highlighted tensions surrounding efforts to turn over responsibility for braking, steering and driving judgments to machines. It may delay the U.S. government's plan to outline guidelines for self-driving cars this month.

The cause of the Model S crash is still under investigation by federal and Florida state authorities, which are looking into whether the driver was distracted before his 2015 Model S went under a truck trailer.

Shares of Tesla and Mobileye NV, the maker of the camera vision system used in the Model S, rose on Friday as analysts said the accident was likely a short-term setback. The stocks fell in after-hours trading on Thursday after an investigation of the crash was made known.

Advocates of automating driving point to research that shows 90 per cent of accidents are caused by human mistakes. But machines can also make mistakes, or encounter situations they are not designed to handle.

On Friday, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said U.S. traffic deaths rose by 7.7 percent to 35,200 in 2015 - the highest annual tally since 2008 and biggest single-year jump since 1966. Federal officials and industry executives say that toll could be cut by technology such as brakes that automatically engage when sensors detect an impending crash.

In March, 20 automakers agreed with regulators to make automatic emergency braking standard on nearly all U.S. vehicles by 2022, a move that could prevent thousands of rear-end crashes annually.

But automakers have issued numerous recalls for problems with such systems. Honda Motor Co recalled nearly 50,000 Acura SUVs and cars in June 2015 because the system can apply the brakes when it detects a vehicle accelerating and is driving along a metal fence or guardrail.   Continued...

 
The radar technology of a Tesla Model S containing autopilot features is pointed out during a Tesla event in Palo Alto, California October 14, 2015. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach