Techrepublic: New York Times Botched Tesla Tragedy

Andrew Levine
Partner, Attorney
Car Going By Fast With Streaks

The front page of the New York Times is revered real estate in journalism. The Grey Lady is famous for it's taking the time and space to delve into details other publications ignore, but even the Times gets it wrong sometimes.

TechRepublic says the Times whiffed recently on its front-page story on the fatal crash of a Tesla car in Autopilot mode. The flagship paper missed the important context, the website says, and gave readers incomplete reporting.

The Times erred first of all with its headline in which Tesla's Autopilot feature -- compared by TechRepublic to an enhanced version of cruise control -- was mislabeled as "Self-driving." TechRepublic says Tesla's cars are not self-driving, autonomous or driverless. Autopilot is a feature requiring the driver to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times and to be engaged and ready to take full control of the vehicle.

The driver, in this case, did not re-engage; did not shake the steering wheel, and did not apply the brakes. Instead, he was apparently watching a Harry Potter movie on a portable DVD player when his Tesla crashed into the side of an 18-wheeler.

The Times called the driver "a victim of innovation." Perhaps. The man was certainly too reliant on technology not sufficiently advanced to pilot a car without human intervention.

It is clear that Tesla's Autopilot feature is imperfect and that the company's communications to car buyers about the limitations of the Autopilot technology should be much clearer. Those who rely on Autopilot and similar technologies might well put not only themselves in danger, but those with whom they share the nation's highways and streets.

We all hope for technologies to make driving safer, but the first responsibility rests still with those of us who get behind the wheel.

Andrew Levine
Partner, Attorney
Andrew J. Levine is a partner at Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, in New York, NY. A graduate of Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Mr. Levine has been featured in New York Magazine as one of New York’s “Top Personal Injury Litigators” and recognized by Super Lawyers as a “Top Rated Personal Injury Attorney in New York.”

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