Robert L. Sears, Accepting cases throughout WA State 253-286-7444 rob@searsinjurylaw.com

He was using the car’s autopilot feature and not paying attention to the road, instead going on his cellphone. The car was driving forward on its own, using its camera-based system for driver assist. At around 3:45 in the afternoon, there was suddenly a loud bang, and the Tesla lurched forward, crashing into a motorcyclist from behind. With nobody paying attention to what the car was doing, it seems the Tesla software ignored or did not see the person on the motorcycle. 

When the motorcyclist, a 28-year-old man named Jeffrey Nissen, was hit, he was flung away from the motorcycle. He was pinned underneath the Tesla and dragged a ways down the road before the Tesla came to a stop. The man driving the Tesla exited his car and called emergency services. Nissen was still lodged beneath the vehicle when police arrived, and he was sadly pronounced dead at the scene. The Tesla driver is not believed to have suffered any injuries. 

Many deadly accidents involve impaired drivers, but that was not the case for this crash. The police did drug recognition and sobriety tests on the Tesla driver at the scene but was determined not to be impaired. He had drunk one alcoholic drink earlier in the day, but its effects had worn off by the time of the accident. The main cause of the accident seems to be distractedness and negligent driving. The driver foolishly trusted the machine to do the driving for him. He was only brought back to reality when the tragic crash occurred. 

Because the driver confessed to his distracted, inattentive driving leading to the crash, Washington State Patrol Troopers had probable cause to arrest him for vehicular homicide. He was booked into the Snohomish County Jail, and his bail was set for $100,000. He was actually able to post bail and was released from jail on Sunday, April 21st. He has not been officially charged yet, and his initial hearing has not happened. In Washington state, it is illegal to drive a vehicle with autopilot. If the driver gets into an accident while the car is on autopilot, they are held responsible. 

Although Tesla tells drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and continue paying attention when operating their vehicles, many drivers get confused because of the car company’s marketing. Tesla calls their system Full Self-Driving and claims that an accident is five times less likely while it is enabled than the national average. However, it could be that drivers pay extra attention to the road while using the FSD system, which lowers accidents. The technology is just not at the point where you can sit back and ignore your surroundings while driving. 

According to the Washington State Department of Licensing, there are three companies in Washington that are permitted to test their autonomous vehicles on our roads: NVIDIA Corporation, Zoox Inc., and Waymo LLC. Tesla is not one of these companies. Although it’s clear that the driver in this case is primarily to blame for the fatal accident, is Tesla doing enough to prevent their customers from abusing their self-driving and autopilot features? 

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This is far from the first terrible accident to happen because of Tesla Autopilot, and it sadly probably won’t be the last. There was actually a lawsuit recently in California because of a separate fatal accident involving Tesla Autopilot. Walter Huang had the Autopilot feature on, which is supposed to keep the vehicle in its lane. Instead, it veered into the highway median, and Huang ended up dying in the crash. Tesla agreed on a substantial settlement with the Huang family. 

In the past five years, at least seventeen people have been killed in crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot mode. Drivers mistakenly believe that Autopilot equals self-driving car, but the function is pretty much a lane assist program combined with cruise control. Tesla says that its autonomous driving programs are for fully attentive drivers who are ready to take over driving at any moment. At the same time, however, the corporation has publicly stated that these vehicles are driving themselves. 

It’s important that all drivers pay attention to the road at all times, no matter what technology they are using. Many drivers don’t see motorcyclists on the road even when they are paying attention; nevertheless, they are looking at their phones and counting on their cars to drive for them. Motorcyclists don’t have protection from their vehicles like people in cars and trucks do, which means that when they are involved in an accident, they are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in the crash. 

Jeffrey Nissen, the victim of this recent case in Snohomish County, is remembered as a very nice and outgoing person. About six years ago, he started getting into motorcycles with his brother, Matthew Hutchinson. Nissen loved riding his bike around and working on it. According to his family, the only thing he loved more than his motorcycle was being an uncle to his nieces and nephews. He was even a coach for his nephew’s football team. He loved spending time with his nieces and nephews, being a part of their lives, and taking part in their interests. 

On Friday, Hutchinson noticed something was wrong when he realized that Nissen’s phone location hadn’t moved for an hour. His phone’s location was stopped at the place where the accident happened. Tragically, it sunk in that his brother was probably involved in the crash. 

Nissen’s family blames distracted driving for his death. The accident could have been prevented if the other driver had stayed off of his phone while on the road. When people drive, they have a “duty of care” towards other drivers on the road. This is a responsibility to follow the rules of the road, stay focused, and pay attention to other motorists, from people driving motorcycles to semi-trucks. When people are negligent or reckless and cause an accident, it means they breached their duty of care. 

Somebody’s life can be changed forever from an auto accident. If you or a loved one was injured in an accident, you can seek compensation for the damages you suffered. Sears Injury Law helps obtain justice for personal injury victims. 

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