NHTSA

Self-Driving Cars: Why they need to be at least 2x’s better than humans.

A Tesla-S model with self-driving mode enabled was involved in a fatal crash. Photo: Bloomberg/Jasper Juinen

A Tesla-S model with self-driving mode enabled was involved in a fatal crash. Photo: Bloomberg/Jasper Juinen

True to my technophile self, I’ve embraced all the latest advances in automobile technology. I was driving a few friends back from lunch a few days ago, and they were aghast at how I didn’t even turn my head as my car backed into a tight space. So, the news of the fatal crash involving a Tesla-S in self-driving mode (aka “Autopilot”) broke my heart. I pictured the proud Tesla owner, Joshua Brown (a tech consulting firm owner) who had grown accustomed to trusting his car to drive him in stop and go traffic. That fateful day was sunny, exceptionally bright, when a tractor-trailer turned left in front of the Tesla driver.

The Tesla news release explained:

Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.

While my enthusiasm for autonomous cars remains in high gear, this tragedy highlights the fact that the engineers need to reexamine their algorithms to uncover any other possible scenarios where sensors may not react quickly enough to keep all of the passengers safe.

Tesla states:

Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.

This begs the question: Why have an Autopilot function if an alert driver is constantly required to oversee the Autopilot? Human nature will result in drivers allowing themselves to get distracted, once putting their cars into self-driving mode. What’s the purpose of an autonomous car, if the human behind the steering wheel cannot let her mind wander for even a moment?

Driverless cars have a “driver” says NHTSA

Uber's driverless cars are doing real world testing already.

Uber’s driverless cars are doing real world testing already.

In my hometown of Pittsburgh, Uber is working with my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, to test its driverless cars. A little over a year ago, Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center opened in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. Since then, Uber has been revving up its autonomous car testing team. Now, you can find its Self Driving Vehicle (SDV, a.k.a fully autonomous vehicles, i.e. driverless cars) out on the roads of the Steel City to test its real world capabilities.

While driverless cars seems like a solution for Uber, legal issues remain. Sure – SDVs may omit all of the driver-related legal issues that continues to haunt Uber. Bur new and not fully resolved issues emerge. For one, NHTSA has considers the “driver” of SDVs to be the system itself. Thus, in response to Google’s own inquiry (a different project than Uber’s) NHTSA indicated that for Google’s SDVs, the system is deemed the “driver”. This leads us back to the question of who or what is the driver of an SDV.

How might this get parsed for insurance coverage? Good question. The insurance industry will get back to us on that.

According to a McKinsey & Company report suggested how they might do so:

Car insurers have always provided consumer coverage in the event of accidents caused by human error. With driverless vehicles, auto insurers might shift the core of their business model, focusing mainly on insuring car manufacturers from liabilities from technical failure of their AVs, as opposed to protecting private customers from risks associated with human error in accidents. This change could transform the insurance industry from its current focus on millions of private consumers to one that involves a few OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and infrastructure operators, similar to insurance for cruise lines and shipping companies.

In all probability, liability arising from a car crash with a driverless system will trace back to the manufacturer. This concern may discourage a lot of potential manufacturers from leading the race to develop the best autonomous systems. But, Google, Uber and GM–among other companies–are certainly investing a lot of time and money into developing SDVs.

Remember, too, that Google’s self-driving cars have already gotten into a few minor accidents. As we all know, technology is not perfect. And when technology fails, the SDV manufacturers will be the ones burdened with huge liabilities. Time for them to start getting more insurance, while perhaps not so much for individual consumers.

Takata airbag recall makes history

The latest number is ~34 million vehicles that are now included in the Takata airbag recall. This means 1 out of every 5 cars likely has a dangerous airbag or some other defective part (see below). Our Seattle auto product liability lawyers have handled many product liability cases–including with defective airbags. With this latest recall, the landscape of auto product recalls shifts dramatically. While the GM faulty ignition switch recall made history earlier this year at roughly 2.6 million recalls issued, the Takata recall reaches across company lines and includes 11 different auto makers. While the number of stories relating to the defective airbags is not large (under 10, compared to the 100+ deaths for the GM recall), any one who rides in a car or truck should not rest easy.

Apparently, many of you were alarmed enough today. There were droves (no pun intended) of concerned car owners who tried to visit NHTSA website for information, but the site has crashed a number of times today. Remember that the database is still not entirely updated on the NHTSA site, as it will take a few days. When you are ready to check it out, remember to jot down your VIN number.

If you or a family member was injured or killed due to a defective airbag, please contact us at Counsel@Stritmatter.com or 206.448.1777.  Seattle law firm, Stritmatter Kessler Whelan, is investigating cases involving defective Takata airbags.

See below for a large chunk of the car makers and models that are included in the recall:

Toyota: 778,177 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2004 Lexus SC
2003 – 2004 Toyota Corolla
2003 – 2004 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 – 2004 Toyota Sequoia
2003 – 2004 Toyota Tundra
2003 – 2004 Pontiac Vibe

Honda: 2,803,214 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2007 Honda Accord (4 cyl)
2001 – 2002 Honda Accord (6 cyl)
2001 – 2005 Honda Civic
2002 – 2006 Honda CR-V
2003 – 2011 Honda Element
2002 – 2004 Honda Odyssey
2003 – 2007 Honda Pilot
2006 – Honda Ridgeline
2003 – 2006 Acura MDX
2002 – 2003 Acura TL/CL

Nissan: 437,712 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2003 Nissan Maxima
2001 – 2003 Nissan Pathfinder
2002 – 2003 Nissan Sentra
2001 – 2003 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 – 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 – Infiniti FX

Mazda: 18,050 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2004 Mazda6
2004 – Mazda RX-8

BMW: 573,935 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sedan
2000 – 2006 3 Series Coupe
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
2000 – 2006 3 Series Convertible
2001 – 2006 M3 Coupe
2001 – 2006 M3 Convertible

General Motors: 133,221 total number potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2003 Buick LeSabre
2002 – 2003 Buick Rendezvous
2002 – 2003 Cadillac DeVille
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Impala
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Venture
2002 – 2003 GMC Envoy
2002 – 2003 GMC Envoy XL
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Bravada
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Silhouette
2002 – 2003 Pontiac Bonneville
2002 – 2003 Pontiac Montana

NOTE: Video clip of interview is from PBS.org.

Honda breaks history…hit with $70 million fine

Yesterday, Obama administration fined Honda $70 million for failure to report complaints re injuries/deaths & warranty issues.

Yesterday, Obama administration fined Honda $70 million for failure to report complaints re injuries/deaths & warranty issues.

“Holey moley!” That’s what I thought when I read that Honda got hit with a $70 million fine. The Obama administration imposed this history-making fine because the Japanese automaker failed to report to regulators roughly 1,700 complaints about its vehicles, claiming serious injuries and deaths. Moreover, the automaker apparently failed to report warranty claims. The complaints spanned an 11 year period, beginning in 2003.

This past November, Honda admitted that it didn’t report the aforementioned complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When did its executives learn of these omissions? It was in 2011 — three years ago.

Because the company also failed to report customer satisfaction/warranty claims (same 11 year period), NHTSA doubled the $35 million fine. One was for the failure to report the death/injury complaints; the other $35 mil for its failure to report the warranty/customer satisfaction claims. Ouch.

In case you’re wondering, yes – some of the complaints related to the Takata air bags along with other defective parts.

Pillow talk over airbags: Shacking up in a hotel to talk Takata

Takata's refusal to expand national recall spurs on big legal fight w/US.

Takata’s refusal to expand national recall spurs on big legal fight w/US.

Takata, a Japanese airbag manufacturer, whose executives were questioned in House & Senate hearings a couple weeks ago, remains defiant in expanding any recall of its airbags. Its faulty airbags have been ruled as the cause of at least five deaths and about 50 injuries. However, Takata refused to comply with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s request to issue a national recall.

The Detroit News reports that NHTSA will bring Ford, FCA US and BMW to court if necessary, compelling the automakers to recall 5 million affected vehicles along with those already recalled.

The first act in bringing the named parties to trial is a formal demand letter issued to all concerned. Upon refusal, the NHTSA will file a suit against each party in U.S. District Court, a process that could last for months, if not years. NHTSA agency’s deputy administrator David Friedman explained in an interview, “This is a serious safety issue, and Takata needs to move forward. If Takata fights us all the way to the end, I want to be able to walk into a courtroom with as close to a slam dunk as I can get.”

In the meantime, Toyota, Honda, GM and seven other car makers recently met in a hotel conference room in a Detroit area airport hotel to address the risky airbags. As Takata has dug in its heels, the automakers are understandably concerned aboutthe industry wide issue that calls for a “coordinated, comprehensive testing program” to identify exactly what are the problems with the airbags. The automakers and NHTSA are conducting independent investigations.

Doesn’t look like this problem with dangerous Takata air bags is going to blow over for quite some time (pardon any unintended puns).

Kids Break Bike Helmet Laws Too Often

Each year in this country bike accidents involving head injuries lead to at least 150,000 emergency department visits and almost 400 deaths. This is based on a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  According to the CDC, approximately 33 million children ride bicycles for nearly 10 billion hours each year.KidsandBikeSafety-1

Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida presented an abstract with compelling data: Despite a California bike helmet mandate, only 11 percent of Los Angeles County children treated for bike-related injuries were wearing a helmet. Specifically, children older than age 12, and low-income and minority children were less likely to wear a bike helmet.

“Our study highlights the need to target minority groups, older children, and those with lower socioeconomic status when implementing bicycle safety programs…” said study author Veronica F. Sullins, MD.

Regional studies highlighting racial or ethnic and socioeconomic differences may help identify at-risk populations within specific communities, allowing these communities to more effectively use resources, explained Dr. Sullins.

“Children and adolescents have the highest rate of unintentional injury and therefore should be a high priority target population for injury-prevention programs,” Dr. Sullins said.

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