A fatality of any kind is tragic. While the press, myself included, will throw thousands of words into the air to see if they stick, the bottom line is that someone lost a loved one. We preface this piece by extending our thoughts and prayers to the family of Joshua Brown. We hope they can grieve peacefully and that the sounds of this story and others escape their ears as they try to come to a resolve on this loss.
The news broke about a fatality involving a Tesla crashing into a truck. The crap hit the fan as soon as the story was released and people broke out the sticks and pitchforks, storming Elon’s California castle as if he’d created a Frankenstein monster.
Now, some blame the autonomous mode for the accident saying that the car took over and became uncontrollable. When I woke the day after the incident, there was a different report stating that a portable DVD player was still functioning in the car when the crash investigation commenced and that Daniel Radcliffe was actually to blame. Another report said that the DVD was not on at all. Yet another, said that the car apparently would not stop on its own. While it is still too early to speculate, I would like to come to the defense of Tesla.
These cars don’t automatically come in autonomous mode, you do have to drive them. The “self-driving” mode in a Tesla is also semi-autonomous. It is a computer vision-based vehicle detection system, but according to the company, it is not intended to be used hands-free. It is no George Jetson car that you just kick you heels up, tell it where you’re going and relax. No, it requires driver engagement. Again, I say that it is still too early to decipher all the facts. I contend that NHTSA and all the other governing bodies should slow down on the hounding of autopilot systems. I’m not being crass, but let’s face it; a witch hunt for all auto pilot technology wouldn’t just hurt Tesla, but the industry as a whole. Google, Volvo and Audi all have sunk millions into self-driving software. All human life is valuable, but if we’re going to send in the hounds to sniff out every fatality for manufacturer fault, the auto industry would come to a grinding halt. No one is breaking down the door at Toyota to accuse them of the environmental destruction alleged in building the Prius. Besides, Tesla has been attacked for quite a while now. The examples of this are many:
- You can’t buy one in certain states because of dealer/manufacturer disgruntlement.
- It is seen as a fad and not a real car.
- It’s expensive. Yes. The Model S is expensive, but it made way for the Model 3. Much the same way the S-Class paves the way for the C-Class.
- New stuff is scary.
Thanks to the New York Times investigation, prospective Tesla buyers have more insight into the crash itself.
This crash is the sounding bell for scrutiny. Have we not raised the subject of error on the fault of the trucker? Had he been driving too many hours as in the Tracy Morgan case? I see some truckers wheeling tractor-trailers as if they were Mustang GT’s; was this an example of that? For the record, the initial accident report from the FHP indicates the truck driver “failed to yield right-of-way.”
As you read this, there are reports flooding the airwaves of a second accident involving a Albert Scaglione and his Model X. fortunately, There were no casualties. I can assure you that in the coming days, Autopilot will be investigated more so than the driver. This car rolled over after hitting a guardrail. It takes quite an impact at quite a bit of speed to roll something as heavy as Model X. Nonetheless, Autopilot will somehow be at fault in this case as well. Why is this new technology perceived as so mysterious that it possesses cars and crashed them into stationary objects and other vehicles?
Now, all the manufacturers doing self-driving car development will have to tip-toe quietly so as not to alarm anyone. I can hear the barber shop talk now: “You know those Teslas will kill you!” Hey, don’t forget the old adage a policemen told me once as I sat on the side of the road in a t-boned Chevy: “Sometimes an accident is just an accident. That’s why it’s called an accident.” Primitive thinking or simple logic? Eventually, it could come down to the same thing for Tesla that it is for Ferrari, Ford or any other manufacturer – human error – and not necessarily Joshua Brown’s! Please don’t make Elon Musk and his Auto pilot system a needless scapegoat for the loss of a valuable life.
Get well soon, Albert Scaglione, Carry on, Elon Musk. Rest well, Joshua Brown.