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Communications of the ACM


Unsafe At Any Level

man in driver's seat of autonomous vehicle looks at cellphone


Walter Huang, a 38-year-old Apple Inc. engineer, died on March 23, 2018, after his Tesla Model X crashed into a highway barrier in Mountain View, CA.a Tesla disavowed responsibility for the accident. "The fundamental premise of both moral and legal liability is a broken promise, and there was none here: [Mr. Huang] was well aware that the Autopilot was not perfect [and the] only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so."b

This is the standard response from Tesla and Uber, the manufacturers of the automated vehicles involved in the six fatal accidents to date: the automated vehicle is not perfect, the driver knew it was not perfect, and if only the driver had been paying attention and heeded the vehicle's warnings, the accident would never have occurred.c However, as researchers focused on human-automation interaction in aviation and military operations, we cannot help but wonder if there really are no broken promises and no legal liabilities.


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