The first-ever fatality in an auto-piloted automobile occurred nearly two months ago when a Tesla Model S in “Autopilot” mode crashed into the side of a turning semi-truck, when it’s autopilot system died mid-stream while navigating highway traffic.
The collision happened on May 7 in Williston, Florida, as confirmed by U.S. regulators and the car company Thursday afternoon. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigating of the design and performance of Tesla’s system.
According to AP reports, the Autopiloted Model S ran into the side of the truck as it was making a left turn at the intersection of a divided highway where there was no traffic light. The truck crossed in front of the electric sports car and the Autopilot system failed to apply its brakes.
The Tesla driver, Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, slammed into the bottom of the truck’s tractor-trailer windshield-first. Brown, a former Navy SEAL, later died of injuries suffered during the crash.
Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode
Tesla said on its website neither the driver nor the autopilot sensors noticed the white side of the trailer, which was perpendicular to the Model S, against the brightly lit sky, and neither applied the brakes.
“The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer,” the company said. The windshield of the Model S collided with the bottom of the trailer.
Thursday, Tesla published a blog posted titled “A Tragic Loss” on teslamotors.com expressing condolences to the Brown’s family, highlighting the uniqueness of the situation that caused his death. According to the manufacturer, the semi was illuminated by a brightly lit sky, making it difficult for both Brown and the car’s Autopilot system to detect it in time.
Tesla maintains that had the car hit the trailer head-on from the front or rear, the safety systems would have worked more efficiently. The accident was described as having occurred under “extremely rare circumstances.” while emphasizing that the Autopilot system is merely an “assist feature,” still in it’s beta testing stage.
The company said the accident led to the first known death in over 130 million miles of autopilot operation. It said the NHTSA investigation is a preliminary inquiry to determine whether the system worked as expected.