Tesla is currently pursuing or being pursued in a variety of lawsuits. Some are regarding trade secrets and former employees, while others are led by founder Elon Musk, as he forges to change the norms in how vehicles are sold and serviced in various states. Many of these legal actions are rooted in clerical merit and don’t necessarily affect the car-buying public’s fleet of Tesla cars.
But there is one lawsuit that many consider far more serious and involved a fatal car crash in one of Tesla’s Model X models. This unfortunate collision calls attention to one of Tesla’s latest innovations — its Autopilot technology. Many predicted more severe penalties and outcomes from this particular suit due to the horrendous result of the crash. But a California judge recently ruled to dismiss the lawsuit altogether.
The terrible and fatal car crash in question
In 2018, near Tokyo, Japan, Yoshihiro Umeda was helping redirect oncoming traffic around an expressway crash. Unbeknownst to him, Nobuyuki Ito was approaching the scene, driving his Tesla Model X and had engaged his SUVs Autopilot function.
According to CarComplaints.com, Mr. Ito may have become drowsy behind the wheel; at least that’s what the Model X vehicle’s data recorder suggested. His vehicle, at the mercy of the Autopilot system alone, crashed into the previous expressway crash bystanders and sadly killed the 44-year-old Yoshihiro Umeda.
Becoming drowsy behind the wheel isn’t a novel cause of a crash. But what makes this collision different is Tesla’s Autopilot system and the Model X driver’s complete reliance on the tech that might have led to the crash.
Why the California judge dismissed the lawsuit against Tesla
Recently, a California judge ruled on the lawsuit filed against Tesla, charging responsibility for Mr. Umeda’s death to the EV automaker. The judge shared that she realized why the plaintiffs in the case opted to file suit in the jurisdiction of California, where Tesla’s headquarters are located.
But ultimately, she sided with Tesla’s motion to dismiss, citing the doctrine of “forum non conveniens” and suggesting Japan is the most appropriate venue for the case.
The plaintiffs, Mr. Umeda’s family, along with the driver of the Tesla Model X, Mr. Ito, are Japanese citizens. Additionally, the Model X had been purchased in Japan, and the accident also occurred there.
Mr. Ito already faced criminal charges in a Japanese court for his failure to act and negligence behind the wheel. And he was officially sentenced to three years in prison and up to five years of suspension.
The hazards of relying too heavily on technology
This lawsuit against Tesla and the tragedy in general can serve as a cautionary tale. Vehicles like Tesla’s are all including new and improved technologies to aid drivers at the wheel. And we may not be at a Jetson’s level of flying technology yet, but early versions of autonomous or semi-autonomous driving technology are here.
It’s essential to remember no matter how exciting the driver aids and extras are, nothing replaces the keen eye and alert reactions of the driver. In the case of this Tesla Model X, auto-driving is a helpful guide, especially over long stretches of unoccupied highways. But it is never intended to replace driver intuition, quick reaction time, and alertness.
What happens next for Tesla’s Autopilot technology?
Despite any potential outcomes for this particular lawsuit, the autonomous driving technology will continue to advance. It’s designed on a neural network and uses ultrasonic sensors, radar, and cameras to detect the vehicle’s surroundings.
There are industry guidelines that every new model much follow, including safety benchmarks for Autopilot-type features and self-driving cars. This recent lawsuit dismissal might be a small victory for Tesla now, but repercussions may ensue should the family pursue filing in Japan.
While this ruling does not impact American Tesla buyers directly, it certainly serves as a safety reminder. Don’t rely exclusively on a vehicle’s technology to handle all the driving for you.