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    Who Is Responsible In The Event Of An Accident With The Tesla Autopilot?

    Aug 05,2022 | Chloe Lacour

    The majority of vehicles marketed in 2022 integrate level 1 or even 2 autonomous driving. Among the systems available, we necessarily think of Autopilot Tesla, which equips all Models of the brand. The latter is particularly successful and allows the driver to be assisted during driving and the maneuvers he undertakes. If you follow the news of the American manufacturer, you may know that Autopilot is regularly criticized, especially in the event of an accident, and its responsibility is then called into question. So, in an accident with the Tesla Autopilot, who is responsible? The driver? The constructor? We shed light on this delicate question in this article!

    1 Where are we with autonomous driving in France?
    2 What does the law say?
    3 Tesla's Autopilot was implicated in several accidents…
    4 But the driver is often held responsible
    5 The essentials to remember

    Where are we with autonomous driving in France?

    Before getting to the heart of the matter, let's take a look at autonomous driving and its place in France. Currently, cars sold in France are equipped with at least one driver assistance system, even the oldest ones. They are then said to be at level 1 of autonomy. Others have access to level 2 and benefit, for example, from adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance. This is what Tesla offers with its Autopilot system.

    Each level goes further than the previous one and notably allows the driver to let go of the steering wheel. However, France only authorizes level 2… At least for the moment, because from July 14, 2022, vehicles equipped with a level, 3 automatic pilot system will be able to drive autonomously in authorized areas in Europe. In France, we will have to wait a little longer, because the decree authorizing level 3 autonomous driving will come into force from September 1, 2022, under certain conditions of course.

    For now, only Mercedes' Drive Pilot system, available on the new S-Class, has received level 3 autonomous driving certification on the Old Continent. You can imagine that Tesla, among others, is working on updating Autopilot to add level 3 autonomous driving, but it's not for now, especially given the controversies that taint the current system.

    Precisely, in the event of an accident with an activated semi-autonomous driving system, who is held responsible in France?

    What does the law say?

    According to the Highway Code, the driver is responsible in the event of an accident, even if a level 2 autonomous driving system is activated. Obviously, there will be an investigation to determine the exact causes: did the driver follow the driver's instructions? Has he engaged the system on an authorized route? Did he keep his hands on the wheel? Did he stay focused on the road and its surroundings? Or was there a fault with the semi-autonomous driving system?

    However, with a car equipped with a level 3 autonomous driving system, things change. Indeed, a decree published on July 1, 2021, adapts the Highway Code to the arrival of autonomous vehicles. Thus, the new article 123-1 provides for exonerating the driver from any liability in the event of an accident. To do this, the automated system must obviously be activated, while following the manufacturer's conditions.

    The Tesla Model S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y do not yet benefit from level 3 in Europe, so you are liable in the event of an accident, whether the Autopilot is activated or not.

    Tesla's Autopilot was implicated in several accidents.

    However, this regulation does not prevent the Tesla Autopilot from being at the heart of the controversy, whether on the Old Continent or across the Atlantic.

    In the United States, for example, the brand Elon Musk is the subject of several investigations on the part of the American federal agency in charge of traffic safety and the National Transportation Safety Board. The Autopilot autonomous driving system is obviously targeted and is deemed to be the most likely to cause accidents. Some motorists are also victims of phantom braking and do not hesitate to file a complaint.

    Let's go back to French soil, since here too accidents are deplored, the last known of which took place in Paris in December 2021 and left one dead. The driver of the Tesla Model 3 continues to claim that he tried everything to stop his car, but nothing worked. In 2017, another accident involving a Tesla Model S with Autopilot activated was recorded on the A6 motorway. The technical expert then noted that neither the automatic emergency braking nor any movement of the steering wheel had been recorded to avoid the shock.

    This type of accident is obviously rare and in the long term, we realize that the driver is often responsible.

    But the driver is often held responsible

    If the exact circumstances of the accident which occurred in December 2021 in Paris, as well as the results of the investigation, are not yet known, in the country of Uncle Sam, justice has already exonerated Tesla and its Autopilot system several times. 

    After several investigations by competent American authorities, it has been found that during accidents with the Tesla Autopilot, the driver was not concentrating on the road or had simply let go of the steering wheel, which is strictly prohibited. Moreover, via the touch screen, Tesla warns users who no longer have the steering wheel in their hands. In another fatal accident in the United States in 2020, it was later revealed that the driver had indeed activated Autopilot, but had voluntarily pressed the accelerator pedal before the impact and this, despite the warnings of the system. In addition, the automatic braking unfortunately did not end to prevent the drama.

    The main thing to remember

    Does an accident occur while you are driving your Tesla with the Autopilot activated? According to the French Highway Code, you are responsible. So be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions, in particular by staying focused on the road and keeping your hands on the steering wheel.

    Such accidents, like the one that occurred in Paris in 2021, obviously raise many questions about the reliability of the autonomous driving system, but also about the vigilance of the driver once it is activated. Know that Autopilot, like any other system, aims to reduce road accidents and that according to Tesla, it would be 10 times safer than a conventional car.

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