In The News

In The News

Sunday, July 3, 2016

What's More Dangerous: A Driver Who is Impaired, Distracted or Has a False Sense of Security

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Wendy M. Schiller-Nichols

Tesla has reported the first fatality in its model "S" while Autopilot was engaged. The electric car manufacturer reported on June 30, 2016 that the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration was investigating a fatal crash involving the Tesla. Tesla reports this as the first death in 130 million miles travelled across all vehicles while Autopilot was engaged. Tesla compares this statistic to 94 million miles driven across all vehicles in the United States per traffic death and globally 60 million miles driven per traffic death. However, the automaker also acknowledged that autonomous driving technology is still years away from being ready for widespread use. (New York Times: "The Fully Self Driving Car is Still Years Away" July 2, 2016).

Tesla emphasizes the fact that the Autopilot technology is still being tested and developed. The tragedy was described as a combination of extremely rare circumstances. A NHTSA spokesman confirmed that the driver had a Harry Potter Movie playing when it happened. The model S was travelling in central Florida on a divided highway in Autopilot mode when a tractor trailer crossed the highway travelling perpendicular to the Tesla test driver. It is theorized that the white color of the tractor trailer side against the bright lit sky was not detected by the driver or the Autopilot. The tractor trailer was raised above the ground and as the Tesla S passed under the trailer its windshield impacted the bottom of the trailer. Tesla emphasizes that had the Tesla S impacted the front or rear of the tractor trailer the advanced crash safety system would have prevented serious injury.

Tesla asserts that its Autopilot system is disabled by default and activation requires explicit acknowledgement by the driver that the Autopilot is new technology and is still in its public beta phase of development. The Autopilot is advertised as a driving assist and requires that drivers keep both hands on the wheel when the Autopilot feature is engaged.

As this technology becomes more widespread and used by the general population it will be important to monitor the legal implications. Michigan's no-fault system pays for medical treatment of those injured in automobile accidents regardless of fault. However, when another driver is at fault and the injuries are severe enough, additional compensation is available from the at fault driver under the Michigan no-fault system. "It may be soon that the first court case is heard to determine fault between an Autopilot program and a driver or passenger" says Wendy Schiller-Nichols, a leading Personal Injury Lawyer at the Nichols Law Firm and utilizing that autopilot program when a resulting traffic collision leads to serious injury or death.

For the lawyers who lead and stay on the forefront - contact Wendy Schiller-Nichols at 517.432.9000 and find out why she is committed to results.

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.