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Liability in Tesla’s Driverless Mode

7 min read

Vidhi Agarwal

Driverless vehicles are a widely used concept these days and, in one way or another, have become an indispensable part of everyday road-going automobiles.

Although an autonomous car is by definition a vehicle that operates itself without any human interference, instead of just the self-driving part, there is actually much more to autonomous vehicles.

Since autonomous driving relies on systems and is capital-intensive, one step at a time, manufacturers use autonomous software to make cars safer. During the test process, autonomous car projects are still generally kept in a closed setting, except a few areas such as California, due to the safety risks and ‘Liability Clause’.

Countries such as the United States are well ahead in the advancement of self-driving vehicles, and certain places such as California are actually encouraging autonomous vehicle testing on public roads (although they have designated areas for the same).

India, on the other hand, has yet to witness technology in its purest form and only gets minimal autonomous technology in expensive vehicles, too. Players like Tesla, who have actually perfected this technology, in India, they do not sell their cars.

Has Tesla Entered the Indian Market?

At its Bengaluru office, Tesla has licensed with the Registrar of Companies in India. The office is situated opposite the Bangalore Club at the Richmond Circle junction.

According to reports with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, on January 8, Tesla India Motors and Energy Private Ltd was established in Bengaluru.

The registered entity’s directors are Vaibhav Taneja, Venkatrangam Sreeram, and David Jon Feinstein. Taneja is Tesla Inc’s Chief Accounting Officer, while Feinstein is Tesla’s Global Senior Director, Trade Market Access. The company was reportedly incorporated with an approved capital of Rs 1.5 crore and a repayment capital of Rs 100,000.

Initially, Tesla is projected to sell its vehicles in India, and at a later point, based on market it would also look at setting up a production facility, Gadkari told The Times of India.

A few rounds of talks with top Tesla executives have already been held by Gadkari. Some states have held meetings in India with an electric car company for the selling of their cars.

Gadkari said at a recent media event that the focus is on the production of electric cars and added that several Indian companies are also looking at development of electric cars.

What is the stand of India on driverless mode of cars?

The government is also not too focused on encouraging self-driving vehicles in India, subject to a recent statement by the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari- 22 lakh drivers are eager to get work and driverless cars are going to delay their chances of securing a job. As Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari believes his government would rather secure the jobs of millions of drivers here than see a technological breakthrough on the highways, India would not see driverless cars running on its roads.

The Minister, reinforcing his case, said the technology in its current form was not appropriate for the Indian market and would also leave millions of Indian drivers unemployed.

Today, you see millions of jobs being generated by truckers and taxi aggregators in the transport industry. Such technologies will make millions of people unemployed,’ Gadkari told reporters.

How many Tesla’s Autonomous Car accidents have been reported over the globe and stand of NHTSA(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)?

Three Teslas accidents that killed three people, just months before CEO Elon Musk intended to put fully self-driving cars on the road, have increased criticism of the company’s Autopilot driving system. The Autopilot is intended to keep the vehicle in its lane and to maintain a reasonable range from other vehicles.

Autopilot can also alter lanes on its own. Tesla has multiple times told reporters that its Autopilot system is only designed to help drivers who need to pay more attention and be ready at all times to meddle. The company believes that Teslas with Autopilot are safer than automobiles without it, but warns that all accidents are not avoided by the system.

Still, experts and security advocates claim that a series of Tesla crashes poses significant concerns about whether drivers have become too dependent on the technology of Tesla, and whether the company is doing enough to ensure that drivers continue to be alert. Some critics have said it is past time for NHTSA to stop investigating and take measures, such as pressuring Tesla to ensure that when the device is being used, drivers pay more attention.

NHTSA has begun probes into 13 Tesla accidents, dating to at least 2016, in which Autopilot is suspected to be working by the department. The agency has yet to issue any rules, although it is researching how similar “advanced driver assist” systems can be assessed.

Levine and others have urged on the agency to mandate Tesla to restrict the use of Autopilot without cross-traffic to primarily four-lane split highways. They also want to build a better system for Tesla to track drivers to ensure that they pay attention all the time.

The system required by Tesla allows drivers to position their hands on the steering wheel. But it was discovered by federal investigators that this device causes drivers to drift out for very long period of time.

In its fully self-driving cars, Tesla plans to use the same cameras and radar sensors, but with a more powerful computer. Critics challenge whether such vehicles can drive securely without putting other motorists at risk.

Moreover, apart from the above mentioned deaths, there was three U.S. deadly collisions since 2016 — two in Florida and one in Silicon Valley —consisted of cars using Autopilot.

In a release, NHTSA stated it depends on evidence to make conclusions and if it considers that any vehicle poses an unacceptable risk to safety, “the agency will not hesitate to take action.” In view of its life-saving ability, NHTSA also said that it does not want to stand in the way of technologies.

What can be the potential liability of Tesla’s driverless mode vehicles?

Lawyers said that owners of Tesla Inc calling their driverless cars in parking lots are likely responsible for collisions after a set of internet videos showed issues with vehicles operating with the new software. However, if the incidents add up, Tesla itself is certain to be dragged into a judicial battle experts from the insurance industry said.

As more vehicle manufacturers provide functionalities that can automate parallel parking, prevent accidents, and take over steering during traffic, among other items, the occurrences highlight a changing environment for long-held beliefs regarding auto insurance and accident liability.

For some potential clients, a Tesla software update last week introduced because the so known Smart Summon feature. They will use a phone app to call the automobile in a parking lot when the car is well within 200 feet and in their line of sight.

By simply pressing a button, users start the engine and stop the vehicle by releasing it, Tesla stated in the manual, warning users to be vigilant.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday that US regulators are investigating into parking lot accidents involving Tesla cars returning themselves to their owners.

“This was a fascinating one to explain to my insurance,” one operator stated of a Tesla scraping against a garage door frame when exiting in summon mode in YouTube and Twitter video posts.

Tesla did not reply to a demand for comment, but Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday that in the initial few days there were more than 550,000 uses of Smart Summon.

Insurance demands for such accidents will go beyond the standard auto coverage of the vehicle owner, said Jennifer Dukarski, an attorney in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who represents car manufacturers in safety and automated vehicle technology disputes.

“But you will find someone who will entertain a class action [lawsuit] dealing with a defective good as the number of incidents builds up,” Dukarski said.

Automated features often pose the question of whether, when incidents occur, the owner or the car manufacturer is liable.

Keith McKenna, an insurance advocate in New York who advises corporate policyholders, said, “The rationale for the owner being liable is that the laws have not caught up with autonomous vehicles.”

If fully-automated vehicles become the standard someday, responsibility will transfer to producers and their insurance, McKenna added.

“According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the system is not advanced enough to be called “driverless” under the motor vehicle laws of California, effectively making the app consumer responsible for incidents outside the automobile.

However, restrictions on the app and other aspects make Tesla more accountable when accidents occur, Mike Morgan stated.

Last year, his company sued Tesla on behalf of a customer who blamed Tesla for his car crashing into a damaged vehicle

“You are still liable for your car and must monitor it and its environment at all times and be within your line of vision because all barriers may not be detected,” Tesla said in the new concept’s guidelines.

But when a user tries to stop the vehicle, it might be too late to prevent a collision, Morgan stated.

“A deceptive sense of human regulation is provided by these vehicles,” Morgan said.

Conclusion- Indian Scenario

As of India, a total of 449,002 road accidents were registered in India in 2019, of which 151,113 were deadly and 451,361 injured, says Road Accident in India 2019 report. India, thanks to its population, not only has busy but also a dangerous traffic.

Its streets are not secured and driverless mode may add on to the number of fatal as well as non fatal road accidents. Well said that if driverless mode can manage to operate in India, it can be operated anywhere on the globe.