Tesla Sued Over Fatal Autopilot Crash, Self-Driving Tech Under Scrutiny
Tesla’s self-driving technology has often been put into question. Now, the estate of Wei Huang, who died after his Model X crashed into a safety barrier, is suing Elon Musk’s company.
The fatal accident took place in March 2018. According to the plaintiffs in the suit, Huang’s Tesla lacked basic safety features, such as automatic emergency braking. A newer version of the Model X, known as Model Xs, on the other hand, does come with that feature.
The Huang family’s complaint states that Tesla should have been aware that the Model X’s self-driving software was likely to “cause injury to its occupants by leaving travel lanes and striking fixed objects when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.”
A spokesperson for the victim’s family said in a statement that, “Tesla is beta testing its Autopilot software on live drivers. The Huang family wants to help prevent this tragedy from happening to other drivers using Tesla vehicles or any semi-autonomous vehicles.”
Huang died after his Model X crashed into a safety barrier while in autonomous mode on Highway 101 in California. The crash caused the car to catch fire. Huang was rescued from the flames by first responders, but died shortly after at Stanford Hospital. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) said the Autopilot software had caused the accident.
At the time, Tesla said that the safety barrier, which could have “attenuated” the crash, was damaged. Last year, Elon Musk blamed accidents involving his company’s autopilot technology on driver overconfidence, stating that, “When there is a serious accident, it is almost always, in fact maybe always, the case that it is an experienced user, and the issue is more one of complacency.”
However, investigative journalists and tech-savvy users alike have been pointing to Tesla’s slow response in terms of improving its self-driving system to prevent crashes. In May 2016, a Florida man was killed when his Tesla crashed into a tractor. In May 2019, another Florida man was killed in very similar circumstances. Autopilot allegedly could not recognize a light-colored tractor on a bright day. After three years and several software updates, the problem persisted, and it, once more, took the life of a Tesla driver.
The Huang family’s lawsuit against Tesla was filed a week after Musk hosted an “Autonomy Day” to share with investors the company’s plans to launch a fleet of self-driving taxis next year. “The event served as a distraction from Tesla’s recent operational, regulatory and financial troubles,” CNBC reported.