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Driver-less Car Technology in Question after Fatal Crashes

Tesla is among the many car manufacturers in test phases for automated driving, i.e. driverless, technology.  A Tesla Model X slammed into a concrete barrier, killing an Apple engineer.  He had previously complained about the SUV malfunctioning on the same stretch of freeway where he was killed.  Federal investigators have now released his detailed complaints and other documents involving two Tesla crashes using Autopilot.  The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate both crashes. 

The released documents reveal the engineer previous complained of the SUV veering to toward the barrier in the mornings on his way to work.  His family is now suing Tesla and the California Department of Transporting for allegedly failing to maintain the highway.  Tesla says Autopilot is intended to be used for “driver assistance” and that drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.  Reports indicate the passenger was using his cell phone just before the Tesla crashed into the barrier. 

A report from the NTSB indicates California officials failed to fix the barrier that was damaged in a crash 11 days earlier.  The California Highway Patrol responded to that crash, but did not notify the California Department of Transportation of the damage as required.  The NTSB has determined that same barrier has been damaged and repaired for frequently than any other left-exit in Caltrans’ District 4, which includes of the San Francisco Bay Area.  In the three years before this crash, the device was struck at least five times, including one fatal crash. 

In another Tesla crash being investigated by the NTSB, a Florida man was killed ten seconds having switching to autopilot, when the car drove underneath a tractor-trailer that was crossing in front of it, sheering off the car’s roof and killing the driver.  A similar crash happened in Florida in 2016, also killing the car’s driver. 

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