Details on the first fatality involving a car’s semi-autonomous feature are emerging a month after the tragic crash in Florida.
Joshua Brown, 45, was utilizing his Tesla S’s autopilot on a central Florida highway when a tractor trailer attempted to make a left onto the divided thruway. On that bright day, neither Brown nor the auto-pilot’s sensors noticed the oncoming vehicle and the Tesla went underneath the truck’s trailer, which made contact with the car’s roof and windshield. The car continued traveling east until it struck a fence and pole. Brown—Navy SEAL, tech company founder, and proud Tesla owner—died at the scene.
When informed of the crash, Tesla officials notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is currently investigating. Tesla released a long statement on the accident, pointing out that this is the first known fatality with autopilot mode and that crashes are much less common with the feature than without. The company also said the crash would likely have not been fatal had the Tesla not gone under the truck. Here’s more, via Jalopnik:
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.
Autopilot features Autosteer, Auto Lane Change, and Autopark. It further reduces the driver’s “workload” by avoiding hazards and adjusting speed for traffic.
“[I]n order for it to work really well, you want clear markings on the road or you want to be in quite dense traffic,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said. Those are “the two places where it works really well.”