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Tesla Driver Dies While Car Is In Autopilot. First Confirmed Semi-Autonomous Related Death.

Tragic news out of Florida where it has been confirmed that a Tesla driver has pass away due to a semi-truck making a left turn and the Tesla slamming head on into the under side of the 18-wheeler.

According to reports, the Tesla was in autopilot mode when the crash happened. The truck was making a left hand turn and the Tesla’s autopilot function failed to realize the truck had cut in front of the car while going at a high rate of speed according to the news report below. The top of the Tesla was torn off and the driver, Joshua Brown, died at the scene.

tesla front end nose

Here’s what we know so far. Tesla released a statement on the accident. It is verbaitum below:

We learned yesterday evening that NHTSA is opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during a recent fatal crash that occurred in a Model S. This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.

Following our standard practice, Tesla informed NHTSA about the incident immediately after it occurred. 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.

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.

We do this to ensure that every time the feature is used, it is used as safely as possible. As more real-world miles accumulate and the software logic accounts for increasingly rare events, the probability of injury will keep decreasing. Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.

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. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

A local news report shows the car’s top completely sheered off. No gruesome footage, this video is safe for viewing.

This begs several questions, many of which I have no answers to. Was the driver paying attention? Did the system fail completely? How fast was the Tesla going exactly to have the entire roof sheered clean off? These will be answered in the coming days, weeks, and month following this first of it’s kind accident as the NHTSA has opened a full investigation.

Via Jalopnik:

One person died in a May crash in Florida involving a Tesla Model S cruising on its semi-autonomous Autopilot mode, as Tesla has officially confirmed. NHTSA is currently investigating the wreck.

It was in a Model S last month, and only now are details of the crash public, thanks to a statement from Tesla and an investigation from NHTSA.

The crash, as reported by Tesla itself, happened when neither the driver nor the car’s sensors could see a tractor trailer pulling across the highway. The Tesla crashed into its high side, the trailer breaking right into the windshield of the car.

What we do know is that this shouldn’t deter people from buying a Tesla. Fact is, they are some of the safest cars on the road. What we can learn from this is that these autonomous systems aren’t perfect yet nor will the be for decades. If you own a Tesla, pay attention like you would in any other car. Human error is still out there.

(Sources: YouTube, Tesla, Jalopnik)


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