Are self-driving cars really safe?

As a Kentucky driver, you may fantasize about the day when you can finally get into your car and command it to take you where you want to go all by itself and without your intervention. Movies and TV shows to the contrary, the day of the totally self-driving car still remains far in the future. Today the most you can hope to purchase is a partially self-driving car like the ones manufactured by Tesla. Before you do so, however, be aware that the safety record of these types of cars is, at best, dubious.

As reported, a Tesla Model X crashed in March of this year after careening into a highway divider. The driver died in the crash. He had engaged the car’s Autopilot feature that Tesla advertises keeps it cars so equipped within their lanes, safely out of the way of other vehicles on the road.

This fatal crash was the second time in two years that Tesla’s Autopilot feature failed. In 2016, a Tesla Model S equipped with the Autopilot feature crashed into a truck that turned in front of it unexpectedly. That driver died, too.

Tesla vs. the NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board is the governmental entity tasked with investigating all serious U.S. traffic accidents. Tesla employees joined the NTSB in investigating the March crash, but this joint investigation came to an end less than three months later due to a conflict of interest. Whereas an NTSB investigation moves slowly and does not seek to assess individual driver blame, Tesla more or less immediately asserted that the crash resulted from driver error since its own data indicated not only that he did not have his hands on the steering wheel prior to the crash, but also that he took no evasive action to avoid it.

Tesla’s literature does indeed instruct drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel when Autopilot is on and to constantly monitor both the Autopilot performance and nearby road traffic.

Regardless of whether or not either Tesla driver contributed to his own death, buying a Tesla or any other partially self-driving car does not relieve you of your responsibilities as a driver. While the technology may be highly sophisticated, your safety and that of others ultimately rests on you, not the car. This is educational information only and not intended to provide legal advice.