Has the robot uprising already begun?
At a September 12 hearing, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will vote on the probable cause of a May 2016 crash that killed a man who was using the semi-autonomous driving system on his Tesla Model S sedan, the agency said recently. The fatal incident has raised questions about the safety of driverless cars, meaning that we may be just a few more years away from the otherwise safe “Johnny Cabs” of Total Recall film fame.
In June, the NTSB said the driver, Joshua Brown, kept his hands off the wheel for extended periods of time, despite repeated automated warnings not to do so. Brown died near Williston, Florida, when his Model S collided with a truck while it was engaged in “Autopilot” mode. Tesla has not made any recent comments about the incident. At the time it happened, the company did say that AutoPilot “does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.” During a 37-minute period of the trip when Brown was supposed to have his hands on the wheel, he apparently did so for only 25 seconds, the NTSB said in June.
Tesla has since introduced improvements to the AutoPilot feature. In September 2016, roughly two months after the incident, the company put limits on hands-off driving and other features that CEO Elon Musk said would likely have prevented the unfortunate incident. A board spokesman, Eric Weiss, said the NTSB could use the September hearing to make policy recommendations.
The board cannot order recalls or force regulatory changes. In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it had found no evidence of defects in the aftermath of Brown’s death. The NHTSA said Brown did not apply the brakes and his last action was to set the cruise control at 74 miles per hour, less than two minutes before the crash – above the 65-mph speed limit.