back to article Tesla wins key court battle over Autopilot crash blame

Tesla has convinced a California jury to side with it in a court battle brought by a driver who sued the electric car maker over a 2019 accident she alleged was Autopilot's fault. In what appears to be the first trial related to an Autopilot crash, Los Angeles resident Justine Hsu said her Tesla swerved onto a curb while in …

  1. JohnSheeran

    Fine print and owner's manuals really work against the common idiot.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      It’s not fine print, it’s big letters on the internal screen, repeatedly and every time the common idiot uses it.

      And it reminds again if the common idiot tries to ignore it.

  2. Malcolm Weir

    Looking at this situation... the plaintiff was in stop-and-go traffic, the car veered into a center divider at a speed of "about 25mph". Plaintiff claims she had her hands on the wheel, but also had time to throw her arms up to shield her face (which, incidentally, is not a great plan in a car with airbags, and it results in you punching yourself in the face at high speed!).

    Now, 25mph isn't terribly slow, but if you have time to throw your hands up, it seems to me that you probably have time to do other things, too... like mash your foot on the brake?

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      I have to wonder

      If "put her hands up to shield her face" was another way of saying "I was screwing around with my phone because I'm dumb enough to believe Musk's hype about autopilot and thought I didn't have to pay attention".

      That would explain why her hands were up but she didn't yank the steering wheel back to center or slam on the brakes.

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        Re: I have to wonder

        Might have been fiddling with controls via the giant fondleslab in the center dash. Where most cars use physical buttons, allowing for a low mental load combo of tactile sense and muscle memory, not requiring you to physically look (or maybe just quickly glance), the fondleslab method used by Tesla requires a lot more of the driver's attention. IMO, the proper US DOT sub-agency needs to crack down on stupid design choices like that. It's a single point of failure for like 95% of your car's functions AND incredibly dangerous to boot.

        And it might be for the best that she didn't yank on the wheel, given Tesla's have a nasty reputation for the steering wheels coming off if you give them a good yank. Still, as much as I would have loved to see Twitler taken down a peg or two, this is a lawsuit that probably shouldn't have ever been filed. The details make it sound pretty weak. Specifically the bit about being on residential roads. There's a reason cruise control generally won't engage on cars unless you're going some minimum velocity. Less than a sheep in a vacuum, but more than 25mph. Tesla should get dinged, at least a little, for the fact that it's misnomer autopilot can even be engaged at such low speeds, warnings or no.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I have to wonder

          Where most cars use physical buttons, allowing for a low mental load combo of tactile sense and muscle memory, not requiring you to physically look (or maybe just quickly glance), the fondleslab method used by Tesla requires a lot more of the driver's attention.

          Not just Tesla, the latest Golf is like this, even the bleeding heater controls are on a touch screen.

          The fondleslab approach is a win win for the manufacture. They can "sell it" as a ultra modern high tech feature while also enjoying the fact that it saves them a fortune.

          1. CountCadaver

            Re: I have to wonder

            Ditto the new focus facelift....4th gen HAD physical controls for all the important replaced with a giant touchscreen....why????

            Most STUPID decision ever

            1. aerogems Silver badge

              Re: I have to wonder

              From the standpoint of the mfr, it saves them loads of money by reducing the number of parts and simplifying a lot of the wiring. It's great for them, but it's not so great for the future owner. We saw a lawsuit against Tesla when the eMMC cards used to store the fondleslab firmware wore out and rendered the entire device nearly useless, which of course Tesla wanted to charge several grand to fix. And we know that these things require much more of the driver's attention to negotiate when driving (and we know people will fiddle with them while driving no matter how much you tell them not to). Which is why, IMO, we need a "nanny state" regulator to come along and "nope" the whole idea. Certain functions, like fan, AC, and radio -- things people are most likely to be fiddling with while driving -- need to have physical controls.

              1. Evil Scot

                Re: I have to wonder

                It was the Linux OS logs that did in the eMMC

                . Running Dev SW in Production???

        2. nintendoeats Silver badge

          Re: I have to wonder

          Yes, seriously this is terrible. You should be able to operate a car completely by feel under normal circumstances, for reasons that should require no explanation.

          I just bought a current-gen Mazda3. One of the things I like about it is that the screen is not a touch screen, it's all done with physical controls. Of course, aside from nav (which it doesn't fecking include)...all I really want is aux-in and a volume knob.

          4 wheels and a motive source has gotten really unessecarily complicated.

          1. HkraM

            Re: I have to wonder

            Physical buttons are just so untidy. It doesn't take long to remember the sequence: Car settings > Lighting > Indicators > Right > Flash 3 Times > Confirm

            1. Fursty Ferret

              Re: I have to wonder

              Bit risky to have just one confirmation. What happens if it's a bumpy road and your finger taps confirm by mistake? Better add a second just to be safe.

        3. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: I have to wonder

          I have that on my Audi but other than the stupid garage door opener (which has a dedicated button on the steering wheel unless like on my car you have a heated steering wheel in which case the button is dedicated to that instead and the touchscreen is the only way to access the opener) the controls for everything that matter are hard buttons - on the steering wheel for the radio/entertainment system and on the dash for climate control. I don't have to futz with maps since it has wireless Carplay so I can "hey Siri" and have it find something on the map and route me to it, make/answer calls/texts and so forth.

          My biggest annoyance is that the display is automatically on all the time. There's a button to turn it off, which I always use, but I have to hit that button every time I drive the car. Maybe there's a setting to default it to off I haven't found yet...

          Other than the garage door opener (and I'm going to see if I can figure out a way to assign or re-wire the useless telephone button on the steering wheel to that function - yes I'm prepared to tear open my steering wheel and mess with the wiring I'm that annoyed by this) I think they have all the stuff you're likely to need to deal with while driving as hard buttons/controls and the touchscreen menu is only necessary for the sorts of things you set once/occasionally while stopped - and a lot of the menus are disabled when the car is in motion. That assumes you have a smartphone so you don't need to use the car's built-in nav system, though it has a "hey Audi" handsfree way of accessing that if you pay for Audi's subscription service which I do not. I think the monthly charge is mostly to pay for the cellular charges for the car's built-in SIM, which I have no use for. I guess that would allow me to say "hey Audi open the garage door" but that's not worth $350 a year or whatever it is lol

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: I have to wonder

            "the stupid garage door opener"

            That is no way to refer to the man who walks in front of your car with the red flag!

        4. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      From a different site: she attempted to shield her face from the airbags by releasing her hands from the steering wheel and positioning them in front of her face

      So, she was able to notice the airbags deploying and react to that by moving her hands to shield her face?



      Because airbags (which are much more important at crashes at eighty odd) deploy in something like a 20th of a second. That would imply a superhuman reaction time, and I can't but think she might have lost because obvious bullshit is obvious.

      1. jake Silver badge

        "I can't but think she might have lost because obvious bullshit is obvious."

        That's my take on it, too.

      2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        airbags ... deploy in something like a 20th of a second. That would imply a superhuman reaction time ...

        Well, maybe she realised the car was about to crash and the airbags only deploy when it has actually crashed. People can move surprisingly quickly when life and limb are suddenly at risk.

        Much though I dislike siding with Elon Musk and Tesla, using a driving system in an urban area which was specifically stated as not being suitable for urban driving was a serious mistake so I have to in this instance. Fortunately for me, although I am looking to buy a new car sometime soon, I cannot afford a Tesla, so am unlikely to suffer her fate.

        1. Ken Y-N

          I agree this is a weak case, but having a driving system that can engage in an urban area which is specifically stated as not being suitable for urban driving is a serious mistake too.

        2. localzuk Silver badge

          If she had enough time to realise she was heading for a crash, at 25mph, to put her hands in front of her face, then she had enough time to press the break and turn the steering wheel.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I don’t know about other people, but if I’m about to hit something my instinct would be to push back on the steering wheel to press myself into the seat. And so if I didn’t have my hands on the wheel I’d be grabbing for it for that reason, as well as the inherent wish to be in control of the car (even if futile at that stage)

      1. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

        as someone who has experienced the full power of fully operational airbags (Ford not Tesla) - my thought process went something like:-

        "Oh look that idiot coming the other way is going to hit me head on. This is going to hurt; hold on to the steering wheel, remember not to stick thumbs through it....<BANG goes the airbag Bang/Yank go the seatbelt tensioners>... Ouch that does hurt but not as much as I thought and my ears are ringing" All in about .5s or so.

        At no point did I think "Oh I must get my hands between an explosion and my face" I was too busy braking hard and steering away from the oncoming vehicle as much as I could (big old english hedge on the left).

        Idiots gonna idiot I guess - Tesla don't help by calling something that patently isn't an autopilot "Autopilot"

        1. Jon 37

          The problem is not that it's an autopilot. The problem is it's like a real world aircraft autopilot, not a Hollywood aircraft/spacecraft autopilot.

          The real world aircraft autopilot flies a simple route, and should be constantly monitored by the pilot, ready to take over if it fails.

          Hollywood autopilots are magic that can do everything a real pilot would, and can be left unattended, and are completely reliable unless the plot demands they fail.

          It's also worth pointing out that real world aircraft autopilots are usually* used when there is plenty of space around the aircraft in all directions, so there is plenty of space and time to recover if they go wrong. Cars not so much.

          (* Yes, autoland is a thing. But that is landing at a known, preprogrammed point, with radio beacons on the ground to guide you to the exact point. And both pilots are watching really carefully.)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Years before airbags were a thing I remember cycling back to school one lunch time when I saw a car coming in the opposite direction. There was a sudden look of panic on the drivers face when they realised the road turned through 90degs and rather than steering, they were easily going slow enough to make the corner, or hitting the brakes, they were easily going slow enough to stop, no they took their hands off the wheel and covered their face before ploughing straight into the back of a parked car. Luckily they weren't going fast enough to be seriously hurt, just bruising and I suspect they'll have had a stiff neck for a week or so. The cars? - another story but that doesn't really matter. Some peoples reaction to danger seems to just be the ostrich reaction. Why avoid danger when you can try and hide.

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Sounds like what a learner would do before they realised the default option is slow/stop in case of emergency. Panic instead of instinct, not sure what to do so do nothing!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Whether they were a new driver I don't know, to my teenage eyes they were later middle age, maybe a tad older than my parents at the time but they still probably makes them 10 years younger than me now :-)

            But yeah they panicked, I think some people do and then again some never do.

      3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Crash technique

        Formula One (and other racing) drivers, when they realise they are about to crash, take their hands off the steering wheel and their feet off the pedals to reduce the risk of broken wrists or ankles. The late British pilot, Eric 'Winkle' Brown* (holder of several amazing world records) attributed his survival of so many crashes as a test pilot to being small enough to curl up into a ball in the cockpit, thereby avoiding sudden unplanned leg amputation.

        (You know, sitting quietly in my chair at home is beginning to sound about as exciting as I want life to get.)


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Crash technique

          Well, you keep your thumbs out for that reason, but F1 drivers are so tightly strapped in there is probably no benefit in bracing by holding the steering wheel.

  3. MachDiamond Silver badge

    From what I read

    Most of the argument that went against the plaintiff was her inattentiveness. She was allowing the car to the driving that it's not actually capable of doing safely.

    Tesla can't be smug and think that the next lawsuit with slightly different circumstances heard by a different jury might not cost them 10's of millions. Since autopilot/FSD is not capable of safe driving on city streets, why isn't there any geofencing to prevent it from operating outside of freeways/motorways? There are plenty of videos on YouTube from fanbois where it took fast corrective action to avoid a serious accident. I'd say that from those videos that automated driving isn't a benefit and can be a danger.

    When I'm on the motorway I turn off the voice prompts on my SatNav. They tend to be annoying since they'll often tell me to continue on the same road when I already know that. It's easier for me to just have a glance when I want to know how far it is to my exit. In a busy city, I do turn the voice prompts on so I don't have to divert my attention from what's going on around me. I see the same sort of thing applying to driving assistance functions though you won't find me ever using them other than cruise control.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Idiots aside

    There’s a glaring issue staring everyone in the face.


    Not it’s not, not at all.

    I’d be suing for false advertising.

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Idiots aside

      It functions just like an aircraft autopilot** -- or did you think that aircraft can maneuver safely on taxiways by themselves?

      (**An autopiloit will maintain a course heading, speed and altitude. It may follow a sequence of pre-programed waypoints and it may incorporate features to warn of, and avoid, a collision. It does not automatically fly a plane so it requires one or both pilots to be paying attention all the time to what's going on.)(So I don't know where this idea that Tesla's Autopilot could drive a car without human supervision came from.)

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Perception

        The perception is very common. Not here and not on Tesla fan sites but I have come across it repeatedly in the real world.

        (For those who have forgotten, the real world can be found outside your front door if you leave your phone behind.)

        1. Hans 1

          Re: Perception

          What does that change ?

          You can't fix stupid, if you try you will fail.

          1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

            Re: Perception

            I could fix that perception a couple of times. It came from seeing the headlines and not reading the whole story on a subject which was not of core interest to them.

            On the other hand, stupid can play a roll: It worked the last few times so there is no need pay attention any more and can boast about that to friends.... crunch

        2. nintendoeats Silver badge

          Re: Perception

          Is it near the big room?

      2. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: It functions just like an aircraft autopilot

        And what about "Full Self Driving", got a situation where that means "Not Self Driving At All"?

      3. Mishak Silver badge


        I guess too many people have seen "Airplane!".

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Autopilot

          "I guess too many people have seen "Airplane!"."

          That was "Otto" note spelling "Pilot".

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Idiots aside

        As some other poster pointed out, a good while back, it is irrelevant what autopilot is in the context of an aircraft - that is specialist knowledge.

        What is relevant is what the man on the street, buying a car, understands by autopilot. I would say that understanding is “it drives by itself”, requiring no or little intervention.

        1. ragnar

          Re: Idiots aside

          Exactly, you can't expect the man on the street to know the limitations of an aeroplane autopilot.

          Auto pilot = automatic pilot.

          Automatic = (of a device or process) working by itself with little or no direct human control.

          "an automatic kettle that switches itself off when it boils"

          It's a completely reasonable expectation to hold based on the deliberately misleading name.

  5. John Robson Silver badge

    The FSD recall wasn't for ignoring stop signs

    it was for treating them in the same way that humans treat them - slow down, prepare to stop if there is anyone else around, roll through slowly.

    Now they do the legally correct thing, and come to a complete stop for at least a moment.

  6. MrAptronym

    Worried about precidents

    I am really scared about all these lawsuits, because I don't like the idea of the precident being set early by big corporate lawyers in this space. We are talking about computers making life or death decisions, what are their responsibilities? Regardless of what you think about the merits of this case, I think this topic really should be getting more attention.

    I can't say I am totally convinced by this case, but I am also pretty disturbed seeing all the people immediately judging this person. "If you had time to..." arguments are not really convincing when you haven't seen footage or anything. People do pay attention less when they use 'Autopilot' that is literally the reason people use them, and they have been marketed incredibly recklessly.

    1. Mishak Silver badge

      People do pay attention less when they use 'Autopilot'

      Which is the exact opposite of what an "autopilot" is supposed to give you - it's purpose is to remove "mundane" workload so that you can focus you attention on more important tasks.

      For example, I was involved with the early development of ACC that is now widely deployed and found that its use gives the drive more "processing power" to read traffic:

      1) When merging with traffic on a busy motorway/freeway it gives a "heads up" if the person in front of you on the on-ramp brakes when you're checking mirrors / blind spots.

      2) Similarly, when in heavy traffic it allows you to dedicate more time to observing other vehicles and checking for anything "unexpected".

      Workload reduction is what aircraft autopilots are about - there's a good example by Mentor Pilot where a "member of the public" is challenged to load a 737 simulator with and without the use of the autopilot. This is good at showing how the autopilot takes a lot of the workload away from the "pilot".

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: People do pay attention less when they use 'Autopilot'

        "there's a good example by Mentor Pilot where a "member of the public" is challenged to load a 737 simulator with and without the use of the autopilot."

        I'm pretty sure I've seen some of his videos where professional pilots made big mistakes when they don't realize a certain sensor has faulted. A novice would have no hope at all if a pitot tube iced up forcing the autopilot to kick out. The pros are supposed to be trained so they realize they are being given bad data and have some general ideas why that might be. If you know you've lost a particular sensor, it can be possible to use two others and a bit of arithmetic to make up for it.

  7. Ahab Returns

    The elephant in the room with all self driving tech is what happens as the sensors age and start to blink out on these things? It is one thing for a cam position sensor to fail but when the "you will fucking die if I go wrong" sensor fails you are screwed.

  8. spireite Silver badge

    Can't fix stupid

    Self-driving tech... wouldn't trust i ever.

    I work in IT, and it's a given that whatever you tell a user, they - in their minds - are getting something that is almost sentient.... no matter how dumb it may be.

    I have a car with a touch screen - nothing fancy - quite simple in fact - Toyota (as used on C-HR, Prius). What I've noticed is that when changing anything on the screen - such as switching to Energy display - the small amount of time I take my eyes off the road still feels unsafe to me.

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