Automotive

Tesla being investigated after driver dies in Autopilot-related accident

The NHTSA is investigating Tesla for an accident involving a Model S in Autopilot mode in Florida
The NHTSA is investigating Tesla for an accident involving a Model S in Autopilot mode in Florida
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The NHTSA is investigating Tesla for an accident involving a Model S in Autopilot mode in Florida
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The NHTSA is investigating Tesla for an accident involving a Model S in Autopilot mode in Florida

Tesla's Autopilot has won plenty of fans since it was first installed in the Model S, but it's not perfect. The system's relative youth has been brought into sharp focus by an accident being investigated by the NHTSA, where a driver using Autopilot was killed when his Model S hit a white tractor-trailer as it crossed the highway.

In the accident, Joshua Brown's Model S was operating in Autopilot mode when the trailer pulled across the highway. According to Tesla, the combination of a bright sky and white trailer may have made the trailer hard to see, contributing to the accident.

Because the trailer sits much higher than a regular car, the Tesla's roof was ripped off when its windscreen made contact. The car then slid about 100 ft (30 m) before coming to rest.

Following the accident, Tesla was at pains to point out the fact that Autopilot is still a public beta, and drivers are told it is "an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the wheel at all times." The system also displays a message telling drivers to "always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take control at any time" when activated.

The company described Joshua Brown as 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."

Autopilot uses an array of sensors and cameras to keep the car between the white lines on the highway. At the front, a radar unit works to maintain a set distance behind the car in front, while a camera reads the lines on the road. All around the car, there are long-range ultrasonic sensors projecting 16 ft (4.8 m) in every direction, building a picture of what's sitting beside and behind the vehicle on the road.

It isn't perfect, though, with drivers needing to pay attention to what's going on in case the car misinterprets the line markings or doesn't react quickly enough to its surroundings.

This is the first reported death of a driver using Tesla's Autopilot.

Source: Tesla, Levy Journal Online

12 comments
-dphiBbydt
Why don't big rigs in the US have protective barriers running between the wheel sets? They have them in Europe. Such structures on trucks would have stopped the car with a head-on impact, the driver would have survived in all likelihood and there wouldn't be a story.
Bob Stuart
Highway trailers are more likely to have light air barriers than crash bars under the main frame. Tesla's caveat is just a legalism. Everybody knows that many people can't resist multi-tasking even without autopilot.
gizmowiz
This article says nothing about the details of the 'accident'. If they were on a highway the through traffic has the right of way. If the trailer pulled out into traffic without checking and forced the right of way he is guilty of manslaughter (in this case). Just because the Tesla ended up hitting the truck does not in any way reflect on Tesla because we don't know if a human could have swerved and avoided the accident any better than the computer did. It's nearly impossible at 65 mph to avoid hitting someone who suddenly pulls into or across your lane if it's done at the last moment.
Leithauser
The first thing I expect to happen is that Senator James Inhofe, professional climate change denier and oil companies puppet, will seek a ban on electric cars based on this terrible accident. He already demanded an investigation of electric cars because of the few electric battery fires, with the strict condition that the investigation not include fires in gasoline powered cars.
SSD
I don't understand why they can't first introduce various alerts such as lane departure, object ahead, auto stop, HOD alerts etc whilst the steering and controls are all in 'parallel' with the human with the human always at the controls. If hands come off the steering an alert sounds and eventually stops the car! That way the technology can evolve with AI towards autonomous. Some (i.e. Google) say that approach cannot work as developing fully autonomous cars can only work without human 'interference'. I think the track Google are on will only ever work when all cars are autonomous - every vehicle aware of every other on a network - that's a long wait. In this Tesla situation, I suspect that the driver did see the truck come in front but getting ready to take on the controls again in the split second that is required wasn't possible because the guy probably sat with folded arms and legs crossed relaxing. It was the drivers fault too for over-confidence with the tech that is simply not ready for Show Time and was supposed to be 'Beta' anyway. Great shame about the death, hope Tesla compensate in some meaningful way to the family.
wr_hardin
I don't think displaying a message to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times will work. I just watched a Motor Trend YouTube the other day and they were demonstrating the Tesla Auto Drive and the first thing the guy did was to pull out his phone and started texting to show how cool it was. People just do what they are going to do what ever they want to do regardless of what a screen message says. They will be watching videos/youtubes, texting, sleeping, etc.
f8lee
I heard on the news that the accident in fact occurred on May 4 - if that's true, how did they manage to keep it under wraps for 2 months?
Imran Sheikh
its all Wrong.. the Automated drives must be applied to Transports(Heavy Trucks) on Freeways 6 Highways(which must deactivate 1Km before the city while stopping the vehicle) with there separate lanes.. more like Highway-Trains. these Vehicles should also possess the ability of making a convoy and in that way they will utilize the "Slip Streams" of each other for Hundreds of Miles which will save atleast 25% to 30% of Fuel of whole Nation Transport which is HUGE Number also Convoy Slipstream will make them move faster. this will lead to Cheaper Products(also food products) all over the nation in Much Lesser time and Lesser Cost for End User. comparing that to having automated cars in cities. you can make a "Super Perfect Automated Cars" but they will never be able to handle the "Super Perfect Idiots" behind the Wheels. So No to Cities & Yes to Highways.
Skipjack
So let me get this right, Tesla has a fatality after 130 million miles driven on autopilot. Human drivers on average have a fatality every 94 million miles. It improved the statistics by 40%. Explain to me exactly what the problem is with Tesla's autopilot! Complaining about Teslas autopilot is like complaining about a new airbag that is 40% safer after it failed to safe a life when a car flipped over (aka a situation the airbag was not designed to be life saving in). I dont understand how literally all the media outlets get so sensationalist over this!
Grunchy
There are dozens of Tesla crashes documented on wrecked exotics dot com. My favorites are the ones where Tesla crashed through buildings and other broad objects in defiance of the 'emergency automatic braking' technologies present on the car. Once, it was the very Tesla sign at the dealership! The guy didn't make it 6 ft prior to his wipe-out. The very worst favor my old Dodge ever did to me was get the throttle stuck at wide-open once, but I managed to kick it loose before I had to do something such as turn off the key. It was an easy job to fix, too.