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NTSB cautions on driverless cars

Motorists in Indiana and across the country have anticipated the availability of automated vehicles. However, the National Transportation Safety Board has urged caution over the introduction of driverless and automated vehicles and their possible role in car accidents.

The NTSB investigated and recently issued its final analysis of the fatal May 7, 2016, crash of a Tesla Model S that was equipped with an autopilot device. The Tesla's driver was killed in the collision with a truck in Florida.

The accident was the first known death of a driver using a Level 2 automation system that controls steering, acceleration and braking. Human drivers are expected to monitor the general driving environment when their vehicles are equipped with this system.

The NTSB concluded that two factors combined to cause this accident. The Tesla driver relied too much on the vehicle's autopilot and the truck driver failed to yield. One NTSB board member, however, added comments to the agency's final report on the accident. He said that the aviation industry had issues with human-automation systems that combine human piloting with technology. The human element of these systems sometimes fails.

Because of insufficient training, he concluded, the average motorist believes that they do not have to pay attention because the autopilot is fully monitoring everything. An NTSB investigator also concluded that humans are very poor at monitoring automation and do not pay sufficient attention to these systems.

The NTSB recommended that manufacturers develop technology that monitor whether drivers are paying attention. These devices should be an improvement over the inadequate sensors on steering wheels that motorists only need to touch. These systems should include inward-facing cameras that monitor eye movement.

Additionally, manufacturers should add devices that ensure automated systems are used only in the conditions that they were designed for. For example, the autopilot on the vehicle in this crash was designed for divided highways but the driver used it for 6.7 miles on a road that allowed the truck to drive into its path.

As this new technology develops, there will be new risks for motorists and passengers. If someone is injured in a crash with an automated vehicle, they should seek prompt legal assistance to help assure that they receive compensation for their injuries and other losses.

Source: Car and Driver, "'A Tesla Crash, but Not Just a Tesla crash': NTSB Issues Final Report and Comments on Fatal Tesla Autopilot Crash," Pete Bigelow, Oct. 3, 2017

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