In a few months, the Tesla Model S may be able to automatically pass slower moving traffic ahead.
Amidst the debate on legalities and liabilities surrounding semi-autonomous driving, Tesla Motors said it can clearly answer the question over who would be at fault if the car crashes during automatic overtaking.
The automatic overtaking feature will be connected with Tesla’s intuitive cruise control, which uses a camera, a radar and 12 sensors mounted all around the car to track surrounding traffic. When cruise control is engaged and the driver activates the turn signal, the Model S will speed up and pass slower moving traffic ahead.
Tesla has said it hopes to make this automatic overtaking feature available by this summer. The upgrade will come as an over-the-air software update for any Model S built since October 2014 with the Autopilot Convenience Features pacakge. All other hardware was installed at the factory, and no components need to be added.
But there’s still one course that Tesla is still working through – the debate over liabilities in connection to semiautonomous driving. Legislators and drivers alike are deliberating different scenarios, wondering (for example) who is at fault if a Model S passes a car using the automatic overtake, and then causes a collision.
Tesla has responded to these concerns with automatic overtaking with a clear indicator: the turn signal. Beccause n order to engage the automatic overtake feature, the driver must first engage the turn signal.
“That action not only tells the car it can pass, but also means the driver has given thought to whether the maneuver is safe,” said The Wall Street Journal.
“While it might seem a minor detail, having drivers activate the turn signal could help auto makers like Tesla avoid a regulatory pile up,” the Journal continued. “By hitting a turn-signal stalk, a driver theoretically acknowledges road conditions are appropriate for a passing maneuver and therefore takes responsibility for the consequences.”
This deduction doesn’t clarify what happens when the turn signal is hit by accident. And the automatic overtake feature further clouds the issue of whether the Model S should be classified as a Level 2 or a Level 3 autonomous car.
“Tesla is venturing into the mushy middle of automation, where the human still performs part of the driving task, the computer performs other parts,” said Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor of law at University of South Carolina.
Very few areas of the U.S. currently have laws in place addressing these issues. Four states (California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada) require that Level 3 autonomous cars apply for a special registration.
Further complicating matters are regulations like New York’s, which requires that drivers have at least one hand on the wheel at all times.
Tennessee, on the other hand, has made it illegal to ban a self-driving car if it meets all safety standards. Last month, Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill, which states that “No political subdivision may by ordinance, resolution, or any other means prohibit the use of a motor vehicle within the jurisdictional boundaries of the political subdivision solely on the basis of being equipped with autonomous technology if the motor vehicle otherwise complies with all safety regulations of the political subdivision.”