Driver was not watching Harry Potter in fatal Tesla Autopilot Crash
After the driver of a Tesla Model S was involved in a fatal accident whilst the autopilot system was engaged, the driver of the truck involved in the crash told reporters that the deceased Tesla driver, Joshua Brown (pictured below), was watching a movie – specifically, Harry Potter – and was not paying attention to the road when the incident occurred. Florida Highway Patrol confirmed that they had recovered a DVD player and laptop from the crash. Investigators, however, has now refuted the allegations, reporting that neither of the devices were operating when authorities arrived at the scene and they could not determine if they were, in the time leading up to the crash.
The incident occurred in May of this year along a dual carriage highway in Florida when a large articulated lorry left its lane and crashed into the Tesla Model S; neither the driver, who is supposed to be ultimately responsible for the car’s actions, nor the autopilot applied the brakes. According to a Tweet by Elon Musk, it would appear that a fundamental bit of programming of the autopilot that screens out things that look like an overhead road sign or bridge may have made the radar blind to the truck.
This is the first occurrence of this nature and of course it throws into doubt the safety of some of the new technology that all automakers are convinced that we want in our cars. Tesla has of course leapt to the defence of its autopilot, stating that: “Autopilot is getting better all of the time, but it is still not perfect and requires the driver to remain alert” which seems to be a little counter-intuitive. Statistics from Tesla will tell you that thus far, Tesla’s autopiloted vehicles have covered a distance greater than 130 million miles and that on average in the US of A, an accident occurs every 94 million miles, which is of course an apparent better safety record than the norm.
The NHTSA investigation will focus on whether the safety system was functioning properly and thus if a recall is needed or not. Regardless of the result, this news will undoubtedly open the debate about whether semi or fully autonomous driving features are ready for the big leagues, and whether automakers are risking drivers’ lives by rushing ahead with the technology before it is fully tested.
In defence of Tesla’s autopilot, we remind you that it is not a fully autonomous system and is classified as a Level 2 on the NHTSA’s scale of autonomy. At this level, there is still a lot that the driver must do to ensure the safety of the vehicle and its occupants, which is clearly spelt out in the driver’s manual.
Perhaps the driver of the Tesla Model S, Joshua Brown, should have taken more care as this was not the first incident he had experienced. Just one month before his fatal crash, he posted a video on Youtube of his Tesla in autopilot mode narrowly avoiding a crash (see: Autonomous Software Saves Car and Driver). The video even gained the attention of Elon Musk who re-Tweeted the video.