Science

Tesla Model S Autopilot System Feature Causes Fatal Accident

By Adie Pieraz , Jul 01, 2016 04:50 AM EDT
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Up until recently, Tesla has had a relatively clean skeleton of accidents, especially when customers blamed it on the autonomous driving feature. There had been no fatalities and the company was usually able to explain why the car had crashed.

In the past, accidents were believed to be caused by human error and not the self-driving capabilities of Tesla cars. Unfortunately, there was a recent accident that led to the death of the driver. He was riding the Tesla Model S on auto-pilot at the time of the crash.

The Verge notes that the incident happened on a divided highway in central Florida and involved a tractor trailer. The vehicle was unable to detect neither the big rig nor the tractor and the brakes were therefore not applied.

The Model S passed under the trailer because of the size and height of the trailer. And since the initial impact point was the windshield against the trailer, the driver of the Model S, 40-year-old Ohio resident Joshua Brown, died from the incident. Meanwhile, the trailer driver was unharmed.

In a blog post regarding the incident, Tesla admitted to informing the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is now investigating the incident in order to determine if the driving system worked according to specifications.

Tesla also admitted the vehicle could not recognize the trailer "against a brightly lit sky," which is why the brakes were not applied. The company also noted that if the front or rear portion of the Model S was hit, "even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury." Tesla also wrote that this was an extremely rare circumstance.

The company ackowledges that the Autopilot function of Tesla is a new piece of technology and warns the driver beforehand. Should the driver wish to turn on the feature, there is a warning explaining that it is "an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times."  As such, the driver must maintain control and responsibility of the vehicle.

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