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Tesla Model S an interesting study of the relationship between consumer warnings and design defects

Automatic driving technology, readers have all heard, is the new, emerging trend in car manufacturing. One of the companies on the front lines of this trend is Tesla, which has begun equipping all its new cars with self-driving hardware. The development of this technology is certainly exciting given the possibilities, but there is also concern about the implications of accidents involving cars equipped with it.

Earlier this year, a driver was killed in Florida while behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S, and other accidents have since occurred. In that accident, the driver’s Auto-pilot system failed to recognize a tractor-trailer ahead of his vehicle, causing the Model S to crash into it from behind. According to the company, the Autopilot feature did not apply braking due to the fact that the tractor-trailer had such high ground clearance, and because of a white reflection combined with a bright sky. The company has, however, denied that the Autopilot feature malfunctioned. And this is part of the problem. 

The company has issued warnings to consumers that the Model S Autopilot feature does not mean drivers are able to stop paying attention to the vehicle’s operation, but still requires them to monitor it. Even so, the way the company has advertised the feature has been misleading for consumers. As some product liability attorneys have noted, the technology may have been misleadingly marketed, giving the impression that motorists aren’t responsible for the car when the feature is engaged. Such false security, it is argued, can lead to accidents.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this topic.


NPR, “Tesla Has Begun Making All Its New Cars Self-Driving,” Sonari Glinton, Oct. 20, 2016.

CNN, “Who's responsible when an autonomous car crashes?,” Matt McFarland, July 7, 2016. 

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