THE DRIVER of a Tesla electric car has died in a crash in the US while the vehicle was running in self-driving Autopilot mode.
Joshua Brown from Ohio was killed when the Tesla Model S saloon collided with a lorry that he and the car had failed to notice was signalling an intention to move across the car’s path, according to Tesla.
Sadly, the impact proved fatal for Brown as the Tesla effectively went under the lorry’s trailer.
“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. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” said Tesla.
“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.
"Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.”
This crash is the first incident of a death in a driverless car. There have been a fair few prangs involving autonomous vehicles, particularly with Google’s driverless cars, but they have been minor scrapes and a human was mostly at fault.
However, it appears that the Tesla incident can be blamed squarely on the autonomous system.
Tesla said that, even in Autopilot mode, drivers should keep focused on the road with their hands on the wheel as the system is still in a public beta phase.
“Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert,” the company explained.
"Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving."
The crash is under investigation by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but it shows that there are still problems with self-driving car systems that need to be ironed out before they can be considered 100 per cent safe.
It is worth noting that driverless cars have completed thousands of miles of crash-free testing, and autonomous car systems are now being seen as potentially safer than human drivers. µ
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