Tesla Suffers First Fatal Crash From Autopilot Failure

Madeleine Jones
July 21, 2016

a Tesla car, car accidentIn June, 2016, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a preliminary investigation into Tesla Motors Model S cars after a fatal crash. In May, a Florida driver was killed in a crash with a tractor trailer when the Tesla was in autopilot mode. According to Tesla, this is the first know fatality in its Model S vehicles with active autopilot systems.

According to the NHTSA, the fatal crash occurred in a 2015 Model S vehicle when the autopilot system was engaged. Prior to any recall orders, the NHTSA is investigating all performance features, design features and driving aids that were operational at the time of the crash to determine if the Tesla Model S is unsafe for drivers. During the investigation, authorities will gather preliminary data to determine if Tesla’s autopilot software malfunctioned, or if it worked properly under the crash circumstances. Tesla points out that it has logged over 125 million miles of autonomous driving in Model S vehicles.

Since the accident, there has been a lot of debate about the safety of the Tesla Model S, as well as the future of autonomous driving. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, it appears that the Tesla may have been traveling at a speed in excess of 80 mph, and there was also a portable DVD player found in the wreckage. However, the important question in this investigation is why the Tesla autopilot system didn’t recognize the impending collision and activate the braking system. According to Tesla executives, it’s possible that the car’s autopilot software mistook the white side of the tractor trailer for an overhead highway sign.

Mobileye, the company that builds Tesla’s autopilot software, stated that the software can’t currently prevent accidents like the one involving the Tesla Model S, but Tesla is questioning that conclusion. According to Kristin Cogburn, a Las Vegas car accident attorney, “the important factor here is that autonomous driving technology is not perfect. Although the technology shows many advancements, drivers need to remain cognizant of their surroundings at all times while on the road.”