The First Death Involving A Self-Driving Car Has Just Been Reported

A Tesla Model S car, the type involved in the fatal accident. Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Robin Andrews 01 Jul 2016, 14:52

Authorities in the US are investigating a fatal incident involving a semi-autonomous car earlier this year. Details of the tragic event have just been disclosed to the public.

In Florida on May 7, The driver of the Tesla Model S car, Joshua Brown, engaged the vehicle’s autopilot, which is able to guide itself along roads, react to traffic, and change lanes, all without the aid of the human driver-turned-passenger.

Unfortunately, it failed to distinguish between the bright white sky and the white paint of a tractor-trailer. Attempting to drive at full speed underneath it, the top of the vehicle was torn off by the force of the collision as the Model S windshield careened into the bottom of the trailer.

Although the driver of the truck was uninjured during the collision, Brown was killed, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an inquiry into the incident.

The last time a self-driving car was involved in a collision was when one of Google’s autonomous prototype vehicles slowly bumped into a bus, which caused little damage to the vehicles and injured no one. This new incident, clearly, is far more serious, and marks a dark day for the self-driving car initiative spearheaded by both Google and Tesla.

“This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles,” Tesla writes on a blog post on their own website, making its views clear on the safety of self-driving cars compared to human drivers.

“It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations,” the Tesla team add, before mentioning that the autopilot feature is still in its beta testing phase, and that “as more real-world miles accumulate and the software logic accounts for increasingly rare events, the probability of injury will keep decreasing.”

Traffic accidents are mostly caused by human error. Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

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