The driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in a crash that occurred while the vehicle was in Autopilot mode, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA), which has opened an investigation.
The accident occurred on May 7 in Williston, Florida. The victim, Ohio resident Joshua Brown, is the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles of Autopilot driving, and in all probability the first death resulting from a crash involving any self-driving car.
In a blog post, Tesla said that it informed NHTSA about the incident immediately after it occurred.
“Preliminary reports indicate the vehicle crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection on a non-controlled access highway,” the agency said, noting that the opening of an investigation does not mean it believes there is any defect in the vehicle.
Tesla’s post provided more details:
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.
The customer who died in this crash had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss. He was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission.
The local Levy County Journal reported that charges are pending (presumably against the truck driver, who was uninjured).
As planned, NHTSA will release a new set of guidelines and regulations regarding the testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads in July.
Source: Tesla, New York Times, Bloomberg, Levy County Journal