When White on White is Code Black . . .

 light effects

White Trailer, Bright Sky

What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. Telsa

So reads the June 30th press release from Tesla Motors on the May 7 crash involving a driver of a Telsa in Autopilot mode with a tractor-trailer in Williston, Florida. Autopilot is considered semi-autonomous driving (Level 3) as control of the vehicle is shared and human intervention is required. Fully autonomous driving, without any human control, is considered Level 4

Florida is one of several states that allow  “autonomous” or “self-driving” vehicles. Williston, FL is known as the hometown of the horse “Foolish Pleasure,” winner of the 1975 Kentucky Derby.

The driver involved in the collision was Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, a former Navy Seal, entrepreneur and technology enthusiast. Brown named his car Tessy and posted various performance videos on YouTube, including a video of a near side collision with a small boom truck . . .

Note: the driver of the boomtruck does not signal and isn’t using his mirrors . . .

In the May 7th crash, neither the Autopilot nor Brown saw the truck. In the resulting collision, Brown was fatally injured. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informed Telsa it is opening a preliminary evaluation of the Autopilot system.

How Can This Happen?

It seems almost impossible that someone could not see a tractor-trailer. Yet crashes involving “invisible” trucks are not that uncommon.

One of the factors in these kind of collisions is a truck making a left turn. Savvy transportation companies discourage left turns and indoctrinate their drivers against making left turns in traffic.

Why are turns dangerous?

  • It can take up to 40 seconds for a tractor trailer to clear an intersection in a left turn.
  • Turns should never be rushed. Drivers negotiating turns need to travel at a speed slow enough that they can not only see what is coming at them, but where they are going and who might cross their path.
  • The backdrop can make a truck invisible. The most dangerous times are in twilight, before the sun appears or after it disappears. In these times, reflectors and reflective tape may not shine as well as they do in pitch darkness, especially if the backdrop is brightly lit.
  • Fog and inclement weather can hide a truck until it’s too late for another driver to see it.
  • Not all drivers follow the rules . . .  some drivers do not slow down for intersections, do not cover the brake before the intersection, or check for traffic.

In short, the majority of drivers do not drive defensively. I’ve road tested thousands of drivers. Most drivers can pass a driving test, but few can pass with flying colors.

That’s why we need to stress defensive driving. Safe Level 4 autonomous driving may be a long, long ways off.

Thank you for reading this.

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