A Glimpse into Tesla’s New “Full Self Driving” Technology

Aerial photo of Tesla car in Full Self Driving mode making a left turnThis week the New York Times published a fascinating look at the latest iteration of Tesla’s automated driving technology, which the company calls “Full Self Driving.” Reporters and videographers spent a day riding with Tesla owner Chuck Cook, an airline pilot who lives in Jacksonville, Florida and has been granted early access to the new technology as a beta tester. What they found was, to my eye anyway, disturbing.

Mr. Cook’s Tesla navigated a broad range of city streets, selecting a route to a destination, recognizing and reacting to other cars, seeing and understanding traffic lights, and even making unprotected left-hand turns—a routine situation that autonomous vehicles struggle to handle. But the car also behaved erratically at times, requiring Mr. Cook to take over and correct its course. In one instance it veered off the street and into a motel parking lot, almost hitting a parked car. In another, it tried to make a left turn onto a quiet street but then, fooled by shade and branches from an overhanging tree, aborted the turn and ended up heading into oncoming traffic on a divided street. These incidents occurred in a single day of testing.

It is worth considering the experience of the Times reporters in the broader context of autonomous vehicle development, something the article largely fails to do. (more…)

Continue ReadingA Glimpse into Tesla’s New “Full Self Driving” Technology

As We Approach our Autonomous Future, Will Products Liability Law Hold Us Back or Shove Us Forward?

Arizona Appellate Court Revives Plaintiff’s Claim that Vehicle that Struck Her was Defective By Virtue of Not Including Autonomous Safety Feature

In recent years, highly autonomous vehicles have acquired a reputation as a technology that is perpetually just a few years away.  Meanwhile, their Car Wreckenormous promise continues to tantalize.  AVs have the potential to transform American life in a variety of ways, reducing costs both large and small.  From virtually eliminating the roughly 40,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries we suffer in car accidents every year to making it possible to commute to work while sleeping, AVs are seen as enormously promising.

Against this backdrop, many torts scholars have expressed concern that imposing liability on AV manufacturers threatens to slow or even deter AV development.  When AVs take the wheel, will the companies that make them also take on liability for whatever crashes they can’t avoid?  AV development also raises the possibility—much less commonly noticed—of new liability for manufacturers of conventional vehicles.  If AVs are significantly safer, will courts and juries come to see conventional vehicles as defective?  According to a recent Arizona appellate court opinion, the answer is… maybe so.

(more…)

Continue ReadingAs We Approach our Autonomous Future, Will Products Liability Law Hold Us Back or Shove Us Forward?

Tort Law and Fake News

Photo of high school student at March for Life 2019This Friday, January 24, 2020, hundreds of thousands of people will gather in Washington D.C. for the 47th annual March for Life. This year’s theme for the March for Life is “Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.” Last year’s March for Life invited additional news coverage thanks to a video that depicted Nick Sandmann, a high school student, smiling at a Native American elder as the elder beat a drum in front of the student. This initial video made it seem as if the student was mocking the elder. In the wake of this viral video and the news coverage that ensued, there was an immense backlash against the student and his high school. I recall seeing posts on social media listing the email addresses of the school’s administrators encouraging people to flood their inboxes with less than courteous emails expressing disapproval of their student’s behavior.

However, later video evidence revealed that a group of Black Hebrew Israelites had been yelling racial slurs at Sandmann and his peers, and that the Native American elder approached Sandmann as a way of diffusing the situation between the Black Hebrew Israelites and the students. Moreover, it became clear that neither Sandmann nor his peers were at fault in the confrontation.

Sandmann filed a defamation suit against CNN seeking $250 million dollars for its inaccurate coverage of the confrontation and the emotional distress that he endured as a result. Earlier this month it was released that Sandmann had agreed to a settlement with CNN for an undisclosed amount. (more…)

Continue ReadingTort Law and Fake News

Autonomous Vehicle Malfunctions May Not Be So Complicated After All

NTSB’s Final Report on Pedestrian Fatality Involving an Uber AV Highlights Obvious Programming Missteps

On a dark street in Tempe, Arizona just before 10 p.m. on March 18, 2018, an Uber vehicle being tested in autonomous mode hit and killed a pedestrian.  This was the first pedestrian fatality involving an autonomous vehicle, and it triggered a media firestorm that caused Uber to suspend its autonomous vehicle program for nine months as it worked with the NTSB to understand the causes of the crash.  With the adoption by the NSTB of its final report on the crash on November 19, that work is now complete.

The NTSB’s final report paints a vivid picture of programming and human missteps that belies the argument commonly advanced in legal scholarship about AV liability — that crashes involving AVs will be impossible for the judges, juries, and doctrines that make up our current system of tort law to “understand.”  Indeed, the errors that led to the crash were all too simple. (more…)

Continue ReadingAutonomous Vehicle Malfunctions May Not Be So Complicated After All