Tesla faces another lawsuit over fatal autopilot crash

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Tesla is prosecuted by a 50-year-old man’s family who died in a crash while using the company’s sophisticated driver aid system called Autopilot. Jeremy Beren Banner’s family sues for wrongful death, while claiming more than $15,000 in damages. A family lawyer announced the lawsuit on Thursday, although it has not yet been filed with the Palm Beach County Clerk.

Banner is the fourth individual known to die while using Autopilot, and his family is the second to sue Tesla for a technology-related lethal crash. Tesla was prosecuted in May by Wei Huang’s family, who died in 2018 after his Model X collapsed into an engaged Autopilot off-ramp divider.

On March 1st of this year, Banner died while driving along a Florida highway at 68 miles an hour. His Tesla Model 3 collided with a tractor-trailer crossing his route, ripping off the car’s roof. Ultimately, the car came to a stop about 1,600 feet from the impact site.

In a preliminary report in May, the National Transportation Safety Board disclosed that Banner switched on Autopilot about 10 seconds before the crash. The agency said that between about 8 seconds before the crash and the moment of impact, the car “did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel.”

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Tesla’s account of the crash was mildly different. The firm said it told the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the information logs of the vehicle showed that Banner ” immediately removed his hands from the wheel. ” That would imply that Banner did not follow the company’s directions to maintain hands on the wheel while using Autopilot. (Although CEO Elon Musk is frequently seen on television news showing the reverse behavior.)

But the language of the NTSB — “did not detect the driver’s hands” — leaves space for the chance that Banner might have his hands on the wheel when he crashed. Autopilot consumers often receive a warning about putting pressure on the wheel even when they’re already grabbing it, so the precise order of events is unknown. The NTSB also said that “[n]either the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers.”

The complete inquiry of the NTSB is likely to take as long as another year is to be finished. In a press conference on Thursday, a lawyer for Banner’s family said that Tesla had video of the incident from the car’s on-board cameras, but it’s uncertain whether that footage was provided by the family.

Tesla also frequently reminds drivers that they need to monitor Autopilot at all times, although the firm is still marketing and selling an Autopilot package that it calls “full self-driving.” Musk has said in the past that severe accidents involving Autopilot are often the consequence of the “complacency” of “inexperienced user[s].”

“They just get too used to it. That tends to be more of an issue. It’s not a lack of understanding of what Autopilot can do. It’s [drivers] thinking they know more about Autopilot than they do,” he said in 2018.

Banner’s crash conditions very strongly resemble those of Autopilot’s first high-profile fatality. Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old, collided with a tractor-trailer on a Florida road in 2016. At the moment of his death, Brown also used Autopilot. In 2016, Tesla said their camera system did not recognize the truck’s white wide side against the bright sky. Eventually, the NHTSA came to the conclusion that Brown was not paying attention to the highway, although the NTSB said that his death was due to a absence of safeguards.

Brown’s vehicle had a totally distinct version of Autopilot based on tech from the Israeli Mobileye business. But the similarities in the accidents indicate that Tesla did not solve this problem with the capacity of Autopilot to acknowledge a tractor-trailer crossing, irrespective of the driver’s prospective fault.

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