switching on autopilot system in self-driving car

California prosecutors filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against the driver of a Tesla Model S that was operating on Autopilot when he ran a red light, slammed into a Honda Civic at an intersection on Dec. 29, 2019, and killed two people. The victims – Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez – both died at the scene. The driver of the Tesla, Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on bail while the case is pending.

Riad, who works for a local limousine company, and a woman passenger in the Tesla were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Riad’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23. Regulators hope the charges educate drivers who use systems like Autopilot that they cannot rely solely on them to control their vehicles.

The criminal charges aren’t the first involving an automated driving system, but they are the first to involve a widely used driver technology like Autopilot, which can control a vehicle’s steering, speed and braking. Authorities in Arizona filed a charge of negligent homicide in 2020 against a driver Uber hired to test a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads. The Uber vehicle, an SUV with the human backup driver on board, struck and killed a pedestrian.

NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have been reviewing the widespread misuse of Autopilot by drivers, whose overconfidence and inattention have been blamed for multiple crashes, including fatal ones. In one crash report, the NTSB referred to its misuse as “automation complacency.” NHTSA has investigated 26 crashes involving Autopilot since 2016, causing at least 11 deaths.

Tesla said it recently updated its software to make it harder for drivers to abuse the Autopilot feature. The company is also working to improve Autopilot’s ability to detect emergency vehicles. Tesla has said that Autopilot and a more sophisticated “Full Self-Driving” system cannot drive themselves and that drivers must pay attention and be ready to react at any time.

Meanwhile, “Full Self-Driving” is being tested by hundreds of Tesla owners on public roads in the U.S.

Experts say Tesla could be “criminally, civilly or morally culpable.” if found to have put a dangerous technology on the road. The Lopez and Nieves-Lopez families have sued Tesla and Riad in separate lawsuits. A joint trial is scheduled for mid-2023.

NHTSA has said that all state laws hold human drivers responsible for the operation of their vehicles. Though automated systems can help drivers avoid crashes, the agency said, the technology must be used responsibly.

Source: SF Gate

Article by Black Car News

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