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Tesla’s Autopilot: Was it Road-Ready?

November 8, 2018 By John Torgenson

Questionable Marketing and Technological Malfunctions Lead to Personal Injuries


In early October of this year, a man from Florida made a trip to his local Tesla dealership to ask the specifics on how to operate his Model S’s autopilot feature. Tesla sales representatives told him it required “minimal user oversight” and that all he needed to do is occasionally place his hand on the steering wheel and the car would do everything else. Later that month he was driving his Tesla Model S for his usual two-hour commute to work and decided to use the autopilot feature so he could relax during his ride. He was traveling down the Florida Turnpike at about 80mph, and before he knew it, he was crashing into an abandoned Ford Fiesta. The vehicle gave him no warning of the stationary car ahead of him, nor did it slow down or veer away from it. Not only was the front end of his $120,000 car destroyed, but this crash left him with various permanent injuries, which led him to file a lawsuit against the car company.


This Floridian’s terrifying experience was not the first. There have been two other reports of the malfunctioning Model S, due to its inability to recognize immobile vehicles and objects while in autopilot mode. A similar incident occurred when a Utah woman rear-ended a fire truck that had stopped for traffic. The most devastating report was out of California, when the driver’s vehicle- unable to accurately detect its surroundings- fatally crashed into a concrete lane divider on autopilot at full speed.


Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the car company since these malfunctions occurred. However, Tesla stands by their belief that the autopilot feature is, in fact, sufficient and any accidents that have occurred must have been due to a separate problem, most likely human error. The Tesla spokesman, who chose to remain unnamed, stated, “it’s the driver’s responsibility to remain attentive to their surroundings and in control of the vehicle at all times.”


Tesla also defends the vehicle on the grounds that the owner manual for the Model S states that engaging the autopilot feature at speeds over 50mph could potentially pose problems. While this may be useful information to ensure their drivers’ safety, they have advertised their vehicles otherwise. On the Model S’s webpage, it is advertised to seem that it needs no human assistance whatsoever; the web page for the Model S even states, “All Tesla vehicles produced in our factory have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.” The two lawsuits filed against the company are on the grounds that Tesla falsely advertised their product and that Tesla is liable for the malfunctions.


There is no data proving whether the autopilot feature is safer than human drivers. Additionally, recent studies have shown self-driving systems like the one found in the Model S are simply not meant to detect stationary objects and will need major technological developments to do so. This leaves us with the questions of whether or not the vehicle was ready to be put on the market, and why Tesla chose to advertise a feature that was not guaranteed to be safe.


As always, if you or your loved one have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, do not hesitate to call us at (602) 726-0747 to see how we can help you receive the compensation you deserve.

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John Torgenson

After high school, John attended the University of Utah, graduating in 2001. John then attended his dream school, Notre Dame Law School, where he graduated, with honors, in 2004. John is licensed to fight in court for real people in the State of Arizona, the United States Federal District Court of Arizona, and the 9th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Before establishing what is now Torgenson Law, John practiced in the litigation group at Fennemore Craig, the oldest law firm in Arizona, and one of the largest firms in the Southwest. Having practiced at Fennemore Craig in both the defense and plaintiff’s practice areas gives John a complete perspective of the litigation process, and valuable insight into how to efficiently and effectively advance his clients’ interests. His unique and balanced background enhances his credibility with defense lawyers, insurers, and defendants as well as with judges and arbitrators.