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Automatic driving technology and the issue of product defects

As readers know, automatic driving features are increasingly making their way into newly manufactured automobiles. There is a wide variety of such technologies, and not all of them have the same functions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has provided a classification system of the various technologies.

The system identifies five levels of automation, with zero being no automation, meaning the driver is in complete control of the vehicle and there is no system that interferes with driving. Level one automation features are classified as driver assistance, as these features only modify the speed and steering of a vehicle when necessary. Level two is partial automation, meaning that the driver is left in partial control of the vehicle if corrections are needed, but is not in control of speed and steering.  Tesla’s Autopilot falls into this category.

Level three is considered the threshold of true automatic driving. It is classified as conditional automation, since it involves a driving system which monitors the driving environment, but with the programmed expectation that the driver will respond when there is a request to intervene. Level four and five are high automation and full automation, the difference being the degree to which the automatic driving system is in operation. For both, no human driver is necessary.

There is a lot of promise in automatic driving technologies, but there is also a lot to work out in terms of determining who is liable when vehicles equipped with automatic driving technology are involved in accidents. There is also the question of working out actual and alleged defects in the software, an issue Tesla is currently dealing with. In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue. 

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