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November 16, 2016

In this day and age, technology is ever evolving. We can accomplish nearly anything from the convenience of our smartphone or tablet. People are inventing ways to make things more efficient and safer every day. In regard to driving and vehicles, there is a potentially groundbreaking technology being developed. Just like an airline pilot, the everyday driver may soon have the luxury of autopilot. It is thought that this could make roads much safer by putting much of a driver’s normal responsibilities on the vehicle. However, this hope that an autopilot feature will be more effective than a human driver may be misguided.

Tesla’s highly anticipated Autopilot feature seemingly promises to change the world of motor vehicle safety and technology. Unfortunately, the recent death of Joshua Brown has shown the dangers of this new technology. Mr. Brown was behind the wheel of his Tesla Model S when he collided with the trailer of a semi-truck turning left through an intersection. Neither autopilot nor Mr. Brown applied the brakes before the collision.

The autopilot’s failure to apply the brakes raises many suspicions regarding the effectiveness and safety of this technology. In an article published on Tesla’s website they state that autopilot comes disabled by default until drivers have been made aware that “it is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.” Tesla stated that their vehicles audibly warn drivers to remain alert while using the feature if the car does not detect hands on the wheel. But what happens in the event someone is asleep with a hand on the wheel? This seems potentially counterintuitive for technology referred to as “autopilot.”

Despite the warnings, individuals utilizing their autopilot successfully could very well come under the impression that the vehicle is in fact capable of handling itself without their help. But as we saw in the case of Mr. Brown, autopilot is susceptible to making errors just like humans. In a statement, Tesla claimed that the white semi-trailer combined with a brightly lit sky allowed the semi-truck to go completely unnoticed by autopilot.

In defense to the serious criticism Tesla has received, the company cited some very interesting statistics. Although Tesla’s autopilot has made fatal and serious mistakes, statistically it sees less fatalities than per mile (with autopilot activated) than all cars in the U.S and worldwide. Mr. Brown was the first fatality in 130 million miles of active autopilot driving. Tesla claimed that the scenario was a very rare and unfortunate event and that they were continually working to perfect the technology to stop deadly occurrences such as this. With that being said, it may be some time before we can conclude if autopilot is safer than the average driver. Drive safe and always remain alert behind the wheel, even with autopilot activated!


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