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Who's liable in Tesla-involved crash that claimed a life?

The question above might not one many in central Illinois ponder. Anyone familiar with the automotive world knows that owning a Tesla is not something the average motorist can aspire to. The all-electric, high-tech cars are nothing if not expensive.

Experts generally agree that what makes a Tesla costly is its power plant. Another element may be that the technology features of the cars are not tried and true. You may ask what does any of this have to do with a legal blog focused on car accidents. The answer has to do with addressing who is liable when someone is injured in a crash involving a Tesla.

This issue has surfaced in recent months in the wake of a deadly crash of a Tesla Model S in Florida. The collision between a Tesla and a semitrailer truck left an Ohio man dead. Because the car was apparently in "Autopilot" mode, some legal observers and autonomous vehicle engineers say Tesla could be held accountable.

Autopilot, as Tesla describes it, is an autonomous driving system. By using cameras, radar, sonic sensors and an onboard computer, it's supposed to make it possible for a driver to let the car do the steering, change lanes, speed up and slow down according to the conditions around it. However, it doesn't come without a warning from Tesla for the driver to keep hands on the wheel.

This may be important in that in the May incident. It appears that the car's detection system failed to see the white of the truck against the sky and thus failed to apply the brakes. At the same time, it's reported that the car's driver was watching a movie at the time.

This death is the first of its kind recorded in the U.S. Autonomous vehicles are said to be the wave of the future, but the technology is still in its infancy. One of the great unanswered questions is how to assign liability when accidents involving these types of vehicles occur.

In this case, an attorney for the victim's family says a decision on pursuing a claim against Tesla will depend on results of an investigation underway by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Regardless of the outcome of that probe, most experts agree it will affect how autonomous vehicle regulations are crafted going forward.

Meanwhile, the question originally posed remains.

Source: DetroitNews.com, "Experts: Tesla could be liable in fatal autopilot crash," Michael Martinez and Michael Wayland, July 1, 2016

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