News today of a tragic first for electric-car company Tesla, as KRON4 reports that a driver died in a crash that occurred while his vehicle was in autonomous mode. The man was reportedly driving a Model S with the self-driving "autopilot" feature enabled when a semi-truck turned in front of him. Neither the driver, nor the autopilot, were able to stop in time.
The crash took place on May 7 in Williston, Florida, and Forbes reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun “a preliminary evaluation” of the autopilot feature.
According to the paper, the deceased is Joshua Brown, a former Navy SEAL and electric-car enthusiast.
In an announcement on its blog, Tesla addressed the death and noted that this "is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated." Autopilot, the company stresses, is still in a "beta phase," and drivers should never take their hands off the wheel while it is engaged.
"What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S," explains the blog post. "Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. 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, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S."
This, however, is the first reported death involving the new feature. Assuming its popularity and use continues to grow, it may not be the last.