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Autonomous vehicle safety under scrutiny: Cruise revelations, Tesla lawsuit

Nov 24, 2023

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The much-touted vision of self-driving cars replacing human drivers nationwide seems to be facing significant hurdles. While these futuristic vehicles have become a reality on the streets of Houston, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Austin and San Francisco, recent revelations have brought to light serious concerns about their safety and functionality.

Cruise — which is owned by General Motors and has been offering driverless ride-hailing services for years — is now under scrutiny. Despite the company’s emphasis on safety, The Intercept has reported that Cruise was aware of two critical issues with its technology. The autonomous cars reportedly faced challenges in detecting large holes and struggled with recognizing the presence of children on the road. These revelations stem from the company’s internal communications.

“We have the lowest risk tolerance for contact with children and treat them with the highest safety priority,” Erik Moser, Cruise’s director of communications, said in a statement. “No vehicle — human operated or autonomous — will have zero risk of collision.”

In a separate development, a lawsuit against Tesla is set to go to trial next year, adding another layer to the ongoing discourse about autonomous vehicle safety. A Florida judge has ruled that there is “reasonable evidence” suggesting that Tesla — along with its CEO, Elon Musk — was aware of flaws in the autopilot technology yet allowed its usage.

The case, filed by Kim Banner, revolves around the death of her husband, Jeremy Banner. In 2019, Jeremy activated the autopilot feature in his 2018 Tesla Model 3. He took his hands off the wheel and a tractor trailer moved into his lane. The Tesla did not detect it, so the car drove underneath the truck. This lawsuit highlights growing concerns about the transparency of autonomous vehicle companies regarding the capabilities and potential risks associated with their technologies.

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SHANNON LONGWORTH: SELF-DRIVING CARS, ONCE TOUTED AS THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION, FRANKLY AREN’T WHERE THEY NEED TO BE TO REPLACE DRIVERS NATIONWIDE. BUT, THEY ARE CURRENTLY ON STREETS IN HOUSTON, DALLAS, MIAMI, PHOENIX, AUSTIN AND SAN FRANCISCO.

CRUISE, OWNED BY GENERAL MOTORS, HAS OFFERED DRIVERLESS RIDE-HAILING SERVICES FOR YEARS. AND WHILE THE COMPANY EMPHASIZES ITS COMMITMENT TO SAFETY WHILE KEEPING ITS CARS ON THE ROAD, THE INTERCEPT IS REPORTING THAT CRUISE KNEW ABOUT TWO SERIOUS ISSUES WITH THE TECHNOLOGY: THE CARS HAD DIFFICULTY DETECTING LARGE HOLES AS WELL AS CHILDREN. EVIDENTLY, THAT INFORMATION CAME FROM INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS.

ACCORDING TO THAT REPORT, CRUISE’S DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, ERIK MOSER, SAID IN A STATEMENT:

 “WE HAVE THE LOWEST RISK TOLERANCE FOR CONTACT WITH CHILDREN AND TREAT THEM WITH THE HIGHEST SAFETY PRIORITY. NO VEHICLE — HUMAN OPERATED OR AUTONOMOUS — WILL HAVE ZERO RISK OF COLLISION.”

MEANWHILE, IN A SEPARATE BUT SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT REGARDING AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES, A LAWSUIT AGAINST TESLA WILL GO TO TRIAL NEXT YEAR.

A FLORIDA JUDGE RULED THAT THERE IS “REASONABLE EVIDENCE”  TESLA AND ELON MUSK WERE AWARE OF FLAWS IN THE AUTOPILOT SYSTEM, YET ALLOWED PEOPLE TO USE IT..

KIM BANNER’S CASE IS ABOUT HER HUSBAND, JEREMY BANNER’S, DEATH. IN 2019, HE ACTIVATED AUTOPILOT IN HIS 2018 TESLA MODEL 3. HE TOOK HIS HANDS OFF THE WHEEL AND A TRACTOR TRAILER MOVED INTO HIS LANE. THE TESLA DIDN’T DETECT IT, SO THE CAR DROVE UNDERNEATH THE TRUCK. BANNER DIED INSTANTLY.

THE CASE CALLS ATTENTION TO CONCERNS ABOUT THE TRANSPARENCY FROM AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE COMPANIES REGARDING THE CAPABILITIES AND POTENTIAL RISKS OF THEIR TECHNOLOGIES.