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NHTSA asks Tesla for Autopilot data after fatal crash

Oklahoma residents have likely read news stories in recent months about self-driving vehicles being developed by companies like Google and autonomous technology already available from manufacturers such as Tesla. Supporters of self-driving cars claim that they will reduce accidents and save lives, but some road safety advocates fear that the technology requires further testing before it is made available to the public.

These questions grew louder in May when the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed after his sedan struck a tractor-trailer in Florida. Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which takes over the steering and braking duties in certain situations, was engaged at the time of the crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration became involved in the ensuing investigation, and the federal safety agency sent Tesla a letter on July 8 demanding data about the accident and detailed information about the design of the Autopilot system.

A NHTSA representative was quick to point out that a defect in the Autopilot system has not been identified as the cause of the accident, but the agency has requested data about how the technology was tested prior to its release and how it handles false alarms. Palo Alto-based Tesla boasts that drivers using the Autopilot system are able to automatically maintain a safe speed when traffic and change lanes by simply tapping a turn signal.

Personal injury lawsuits stemming from automobile accidents are usually filed against reckless drivers or their insurance companies, but auto manufacturers may also be sued when a defect of some kind causes a crash. Attorneys who focus on auto product liability lawsuits may have the vehicles involved in an accident mechanically inspected when police reports and witness statements fail to provide a definitive cause, and they may initiate litigation on behalf of accident victims when a mechanical defect or an electronic failure seems probable.