Tesla Autopilot Mode Leads to First Fatal Self-Driving Car Crash

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

Self-driving car technology is, for the first time, being held responsible for a fatality. 40-year-old Joshua Brown died last month in the driver’s seat of a Tesla Model S car, after colliding with a lorry in Florida.

The car had been in Autopilot mode, and Tesla has admitted that the feature came up short. In a statement, the company said:

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.

The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.

Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.

Tesla says that drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel and maintain control of the vehicle in Autopilot mode, and according to reports, Brown had been watching a Harry Potter film at the time of the crash.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened investigations into the feature to work out whether or not it malfunctioned. [BBC]