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NYT Article Reveals Tesla Is Being Sued For A Death Involving Autopilot

Tesla has its own statistics to claim that cars on Autopilot are safer than those driven solely by humans. A New York Times article shows that not everybody agrees with that, such as Jovani Maldonado’s family. The 15-year-old boy died in a crash involving Autopilot in August 2019. The article contains a video of the crash.
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A Tesla Model 3 using the system did not detect Benjamin Maldonado’s Ford Explorer pickup truck when he changed lanes and hit it in the back at 60 mph. Maldonado was in the front passenger seat and was projected through the windshield due to the crash.

The Maldonado family is now suing Tesla, Romeo Lagman Yalung (the Model 3 driver), and his wife, Vilma (owner of the vehicle). Ryan McCarthy, a Tesla lawyer, sent an email message to the Maldonado’s family lawyer blaming Yalung for the crash and trying to exempt the company from any responsibility.

While that is up to judges to rule, Autopilot is under heavy scrutiny these days. NHTSA (National Traffic Highway Safety Administration) reached 30 crash investigations in which Autopilot was involved and recently demanded all cases related to Level-2 or higher driving aid systems to be reported. Fatalities occurred in at least three of these investigations.

This lawsuit against Tesla is not the only one blaming Autopilot for severe crashes. The article mentions two of them. The first was filed in April in Florida after Naibel Leon was killed when a Tesla Model S failed to stop at a T intersection. It then crashed on her Chevrolet Tahoe. The second blames Autopilot for leaving Darel Kyle with severe spinal injuries after a Tesla using it rear-ended his van in California.

In the crash that killed Maldonado, the video shows the pickup truck entered the right lane after the blinker flashed at least four times. When his father noticed that the Tesla would not stop, he tried to get back to the left lane, but there was no time for that. If Autopilot could detect his car or if the Tesla driver was paying attention to traffic, Jovani Maldonado would still be alive.

Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University dedicated to autonomous driving tech, reviewed the video and crash information and said it is possible that Autopilot failed to brake because Tesla’s cameras were facing the sun. He also mentioned that radar input could have prevented the crash but that it possibly was not being used.

If that is confirmed, it would explain why so many specialists are concerned with Tesla Vision. The EV manufacturer decided it would not use radar in its cars anymore, relying solely on cameras to operate Autopilot and FSD (Full Self-Driving). If cameras can fail due to sunlight incidence angles and there is no backup system such as radars to avoid a crash, more wrecks such as the one that killed Maldonado can happen.

Apart from putting Autopilot to blame, this sad story also reinforces the importance of seat belt use. In most countries, its use is mandatory, just like having a valid driver’s license. Perhaps it is time the US starts considering applying the same rules to lower the number of traffic casualties it faces every single year.

 
 
 
 
 

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