Do Automated Safety Aids Make Drivers Complacent? The NTSB Wants to Know

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The National Transportation Safety Board plans to investigate the fatal May 7 Tesla crash to see if the trend of increased automation in driving functions has a dark side, Bloomberg reports.

Already, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into the incident and the role the vehicle’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system played in the crash, but the NTSB has a broader scope in mind. As vehicles increasingly rely on electronic aids for safety, drivers could be letting down their guard.

Tesla admits that the Autopilot system in Joshua Brown’s Model S failed to recognize the transport truck crossing the Florida highway in front of him due to bright sunlight reflecting off of the trailer. After this incident and a July 1 rollover crash of a Model X driving in Autopilot mode, safety and consumer advocates are livid over the company’s beta testing of a potentially unsafe technology.

Autopilot can be fooled, but what isn’t clear is why Brown himself didn’t try to avoid the large obstacle that appeared directly in front of him on a dry, sunny day.

The driver of the truck said he heard, but didn’t see, the movie Harry Potter playing in the wreckage of the Model S. However, a responding Florida Highway Patrol officer claims neither the laptop nor the portable DVD player found in the vehicle were running after the crash. Sergeant Kim Montes told Reuters that investigators can’t say whether Brown was operating either device at the time of the collision.

For the NTSB investigators arriving in Florida this week, looking into the cause of the Tesla crash won’t be the only part of their job. The team — and agency — wants to know of if there are any systemic issues with autonomous technology that could compromise public safety. If any issues are found, the NTSB could seek to change policies surrounding the technology.

“It’s worth taking a look and seeing what we can learn from that event, so that as that automation is more widely introduced we can do it in the safest way possible,” NTSB spokesperson Christopher O’Neil told Bloomberg.

[Image: Volvo Cars]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
6 of 105 comments
  • Kyree Kyree on Jul 11, 2016

    Considering that Sally Ruth is perfectly content to do her make-up behind the wheel of her '95 Thunderbird that has no driving aids at all, I'd think that plenty of drivers are already "complacent." Yes, people should pay attention to the road instead of their personal appearances or cell phones, but it seems to me like these driver aids help mitigate what is a foregone conclusion...that people already drive recklessly.

    • See 3 previous
    • TrailerTrash TrailerTrash on Jul 11, 2016

      @Kyree Ya...I wasn't really disagreeing with you. I think you are correct. I was also trying to vote in fav of any aids that help. There simply is no argument that as tech advances, it must be put into our cars. Theresa, by the way, is not have diminished senses...she just is not a skilled driver. Never has been. She, like so many, just are doing the best they can. Peripheral vision is not a given to all, but it is a premium in life. As is anticipation and awareness. So, like you, I say bring it ll on. But do not call it autopilot. That is simply misleading and wrong. I still say it is a marketing ploy by Tesla...and they know it.

  • 415s30 415s30 on Jul 17, 2016

    You give people anything and they get lazy. Wall E is on it's way.