Tesla has been in the news a lot lately, which is exactly how Elon Musk likes it, for the most part. In some headlines the electric car company is attempting to purchase solar energy provider Solar City or increasing production of its highly-anticipated Model 3, what some are calling the first “mass market” electric car.
But, as is often the case, the news is not all good. There are rumblings that Tesla may be looking at a lawsuit spawned by the autopilot system in its vehicles. The incident in question took place in Florida when a man using the Tesla’s proprietary self-driving tech got into a traffic collision. According to media reports, Josh Brown was killed after his autopilot system failed to recognize a tractor-trailer turning in front of his Model S. The car plowed into the truck, killing Brown. The family is reportedly considering a lawsuit.
Public Perception And Government Regulation
Some legal eagles are saying Tesla could be in considerable hot water over this incident, saying reasonable people could expect the product or program to work better, effectively avoiding the sort of crash that killed Brown.
There will be pushback, of course. Everyone knows autopilot is a new technology, so why wasn’t Brown paying better attention. If the computer missed the truck, why did the human?
Of course, Musk and Tesla are not just worried about a single lawsuit. They – and all other ersatz autopilot car companies – are more worried about public perception and government regulation.
Industry Set Back
On the one hand, if people think the autopilot will kill them, they can’t be expected to buy the cars. On the other, if the government thinks it could be blamed for “allowing” these things to happen, companies can expect the sharp and heavy ax of regulation to fall sooner rather than later. This eventuality could set the industry back years…and some companies have already made strict timeline promises to both consumers and investors.
Bottom line, if this case goes the “wrong way” for companies involved, it could create a cascading domino effect of bad news and worse PR, doing untold damage to the industry at large.
Jay Sekulow is an American attorney