Tesla Driver Killed when Autopilot Failed to Avoid Collision, sparks Investigation

United States – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a preliminary investigation into the Tesla Model S on Thursday after it was reported a Tesla driver died while the semi-autonomous Autopilot system was engaged on Wednesday.

In a post on their website, Tesla describes the incident as a ‘Tragic Loss’ and said this is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles [209 million kilometers] where Autopilot has been engaged.

Tesla gave a brief summary of the incident that led to death of the Model S driver;

“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 further explains that the ‘semi-autonomous’ Autopilot system is in beta mode or testing phase which means that there is an element of risk posed to those who use it.

Tesla says that the following measures are in place to ensure that the driver is not caught napping at the wheel.

“It is important to note that Tesla disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled. When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it. Additionally, every time that Autopilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to “Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time.” The system also makes frequent checks to ensure that the driver’s hands remain on the wheel and provides visual and audible alerts if hands-on is not detected. It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.”

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