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Unjust deaths because of self-driving Tesla cars


AmericaA California family is suing Tesla, alleging its Autopilot mode was responsible for the crash that killed their 15-year-old son.

In August 2019, Benjamin Maldonado and his teenage son were driving home on a California highway after a football game. As the truck in front slowed down, Maldonado pushed his turn signal and steered to the right. Within seconds, his Ford Explorer pickup was hit by a Tesla Model 3 traveling at 97 km/h in self-driving mode.

[Gia đình Maldonado bên di ảnh của Jovani, 15 tuổi. Ảnh: The New York Times

Trong video 6 giây do chiếc Tesla thu được, dữ liệu ghi lại cho thấy rằng cả chế độ tự lái – hệ thống được Tesla ca tụng là có thể đánh lái, phanh và tăng tốc tự động – lẫn tài xế đều không giảm tốc xe cho tới tận một phần giây trước khi xảy ra vụ va chạm. Jovani 15 tuổi, ngồi trên ghế hành khách phía trước, không thắt dây an toàn, văng ra khỏi chiếc Ford và tử vong, theo báo cáo của cảnh sát.

Khoảnh khắc trước khi xảy ra vụ tai nạn

Vụ tai nạn xảy ra cách nhà máy chính của Tesla chỉ 6 km. Số vụ va chạm liên quan đến hệ thống lái tự động đang gia tăng, làm dấy lên lo ngại về những hạn chế của công nghệ này, và có thể khiến người ta đặt nghi vấn về sự phát triển của những hệ thống tương tự do các hãng ôtô đối thủ sử dụng. Và khi ôtô đảm nhận nhiều nhiệm vụ trước đây do con người thực hiện hơn, những hệ thống này có thể phát triển thành nhiều nhánh chính – không chỉ cho tài xế xe hơi mà còn cho cả những người lái xe máy, đi bộ và đạp xe khác.

Tesla, được thành lập năm 2003, và giám đốc điều hành của hãng, Elon Musk, đã táo bạo thách thức ngành công nghiệp ôtô, thu hút những người hâm mộ và khách hàng trung thành, tạo nên một tiêu chuẩn mới cho ôtô điện khiến các hãng xe hơi có tên tuổi khác phải suy ngẫm. Giá trị Tesla tương đương với nhiều hãng ôtô lớn gộp lại.

Nhưng vụ tai nạn liên quan đến hệ thống lái tự động có thể đe doạ chỗ đứng của Tesla và buộc các cơ quan quản lý có hành động. Cục An toàn Giao thông đường bộ Mỹ (NHTSA) đã tiến hành hàng chục cuộc điều tra các vụ tai nạn liên quan đến chế độ tự lái.

Ít nhất ba tài xế Tesla đã thiệt mạng kể từ năm 2016 trong những vụ va chạm trong đó có liên quan đến chế độ tự lái và không phát hiện có chướng ngại vật trên đường. Trong hai trường hợp, hệ thống này không phanh khi gặp xe đầu kéo trên cao tốc. Ở trường hợp thứ ba, hệ thống không nhận diện được dải bê tông phân cách. Hồi tháng 6, cơ quan an toàn giao thông liên bang đã công bố danh sách cho thấy ít nhất 10 người đã tử vong trong 8 vụ tai nạn liên quan đến hệ thống tự lái kể từ 2016. Danh sách đó không bao gồm vụ va chạm khiến Jovani Maldonado tử vong.

Uy tín của Tesla bị tổn hại nghiêm trọng, vài chuyên gia trong lĩnh vực lái tự động nói rằng khó mà không nghi ngờ những tuyên bố khác của Musk và công ty này. Chẳng hạn, Musk đã nhiều lần tuyên bố rằng Tesla sắp hoàn thiện chế độ Lái hoàn toàn Tự động, công nghệ cho phép ôtô tự lái hoàn toàn trong hầu hết trường hợp – điều mà các hãng ôtô và công nghệ khác cho rằng sẽ mất nhiều năm nữa.

Musk và Tesla không phản hồi khi được hỏi về vấn đề này.

[ảnh 2]  Note: Throttle pedal force measures how much the pedal is depressed as a percentage.  Video and data from the Tesla provided by Benjamin Swanson, the Maldonado family's attorney.

Specs of the Tesla before the collision. Video and data from the Tesla provided by Benjamin Swanson, the Maldonado family’s attorney.

Autopilot is not an autopilot system. Rather, it is a set of software, cameras and sensors that aim to assist drivers and prevent accidents by taking on many aspects of driving – even lane changes. Tesla executives have asserted that leaving these functions to computers will make driving safer, because human drivers are prone to mistakes and distractions, and cause most of the problems. of the nearly 40,000 traffic-related deaths that occur each year in the United States.

“Computers don’t look at Instagram while driving,” Tesla’s chief artificial intelligence officer, Andrej Karpathy, said last month during an autonomous driving webinar.

While Autopilot is in control, drivers can relax, but they are not allowed to just ignore driving. Instead, they are responsible for keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, ready to handle in case the system is confused or does not recognize objects or in dangerous traffic situations.

But with nothing to do but look straight ahead, some drivers can’t seem to resist the temptation to let their minds roam while Autopilot is active. Videos posted to Twitter and elsewhere show drivers reading or sleeping in their Teslas.

Tesla often blames the driver, saying that in some cases the driver was not responsible for keeping his hands on the wheel and eyes on the road when using Autopilot mode.

But NHTSA, which has completed an investigation into crashes involving Autopilot, says the system lacks safety measures to avoid abuse and doesn’t effectively monitor drivers.

Many similar systems from General Motors, Ford and other automakers use cameras to track drivers’ eye movements and issue warnings when they look away from the road. After a few warnings, GM’s Super Cruise system will shut down the engine and ask the driver to take control of the vehicle.

This spring, Tesla told owners of some of its vehicles that a camera would begin to “detect and warn about driver inattention.” But car safety experts say that the company’s cars only occasionally issue warnings and do not turn off Autopilot when the driver is distracted. The system sometimes continues to operate even when the driver only has their hands on the wheel for a few seconds at a time.

“This surveillance system is fundamentally weak because it’s easy to cheat and not closely monitored,” said Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who focuses on autopilot technology. , said.

[ảnh 4]  Jovani Maldonado altar at home.  Photo: The New York Times.

Jovani Maldonado altar at home. Image: The New York Times

In May, Consumer Reports says one of its engineers was able to turn on Autopilot on a Tesla and get in the back seat while the car was still moving. The California Highway Patrol said in May that it had arrested a man from the driver’s seat of a Model 3 while the vehicle was still moving.

Autopilot can be used on streets where intersections, pedestrians and moving vehicles make driving more difficult than driving on the highway. GM’s Super Cruise system only works on lane-delimited highways.

Even so, Musk has often defended the Autopilot feature. The company cites its own statistics to claim that cars using self-driving modes are less likely to be involved in accidents per kilometer than other cars. On July 1, Musk wrote on Twitter, that “accidents on Autopilot are becoming rarer by the day”.

NHTSA has not yet required Tesla to change or disable the Autopilot feature, but in June it said it would require all automakers to report accidents involving such systems.

This year alone, several lawsuits have been filed against Tesla, including an April case in Florida state court related to a 2019 crash in Key Largo. The Tesla Model S with Autopilot did not stop at the fork and crashed into a Chevrolet Tahoe parked on the side of the road, killing 22-year-old Naibel Leon. In May, Darel Kyle, 55, filed a lawsuit in California. He suffered a serious spinal injury when a Tesla driving with Autopilot hit the back of the van he was driving.

The crash that killed Jovani Maldonado was a rare occurrence where video and data from a Tesla car were used. The Maldonado family’s attorney, Benjamin Swanson, obtained them from Tesla and shared both with The New York Times.

Mr. Maldonado and his wife, Adriana Garcia, filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court. Their lawsuit asserts that Autopilot is full of errors and fails to respond to traffic conditions. The lawsuit also names the defendant as the Tesla driver, Romeo Lagman Yalung of Newark, California, and his wife, Vilma, who owned the vehicle and was in the front passenger seat.

Mr. Yalung and his lawyer did not respond to the incident. He and his wife, who were not reported injured in the crash, have yet to respond to the Maldonado family’s lawsuit in court.

In court filings, Tesla has yet to respond to the allegation that Autopilot has a malfunction or omission. In an email to Mr Swanson’s law firm, which was filed as evidence in court, Tesla’s attorney, Ryan McCarthy, said the driver, not Tesla, was responsible.

“Police have fined the Tesla driver, not the vehicle, for his negligence and unsafe speed driving,” McCarthy wrote. He did not respond to an email requesting further comment.

The 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, killed the driver of a Tesla Model X while Autopilot was active.  Image:

The 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, killed the driver of a Tesla Model X while Autopilot was active. Image:

Mr. Maldonado works for Pepsi, delivering soft drinks to retailers. His family, including two more children, live in San Lorenzo, Alameda County, California.

In his response to the question, Mr. Maldonado said he and his wife were so shocked that they were unable to give an interview. “We are living in limbo every day,” he said. “There’s so much sadness buried in. Our family goes for walks and tries to do things together, like going to church together. Our family is suffering a great loss.”

Mr. Maldonado describes his son as an 11th grader who loves to sing and plans to go to college. His dream is to become a professional soccer player and buy his parents a house. “Like any filial child, he wants to take care of his parents just like the parents took care of him,” Mr. Maldonado said.

The data and video show a more detailed look at how Autopilot behaves in the seconds before the collision occurs. Tesla cars always record short clips with the front camera. If a collision occurs, the video will automatically be saved and uploaded to Tesla’s servers, a company employee said in an email attached to Swanson’s court filing.

Video captured by the car Mr Yalung was driving showed it swerving past other cars from the left and right. Four seconds before impact, Mr. Maldonado turned on his turn signal. The turn signals flashed four times while his Explorer was in the starting lane. On the fifth flash, his car was in the middle of two lanes. In court documents, Maldonado said he noticed the Tesla approaching quickly in his rearview mirror and he tried to steer back.

Throughout the video, the Tesla maintained a speed of 110 km/h, but just before the collision it increased slightly to 113 km/h, then decelerated in the last second, according to data from the car.

Mr. Rajkumar, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who reviewed the video and data at the invitation of The Times, said that the Autopilot feature may have failed to brake when it encountered the Explorer because the Tesla’s camera was facing the sun or was confused by the truck in front of the Explorer. The Tesla has also been fitted with touch-sensitive radar, but it doesn’t seem to help.

“The radar should have detected the pickup, and it was able to avoid the collision,” Rajkumar said in an email. “Therefore, it seems that the radar was not used.”

Mr Maldonado’s car spun around and crashed into the median, the police report said. The windshield was shattered and the hood was crushed, and the rear axle fell out. The Tesla’s hood was crushed, the front end was crushed, the shock absorber was nearly severed, and the windshield was cracked.

Jovani Maldonado was found lying face down on the side of Interstate 880, in a pool of blood.

Mai Huyen (according to the NY Times)

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