The first fatal crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot system highlights the contradictory expectations of vehicle autonomy
On 7 May, a Tesla Model S was involved in a fatal accident in Florida. At the time of the accident, the vehicle was driving itself, using its Autopilot system. The system didn’t stop for a tractor-trailer attempting to turn across a divided highway, and the Tesla collided with the trailer. In a statement, Tesla Motors said this is the “first known fatality in just over 130 million miles [210 million km] where Autopilot was activated” and suggested that this ratio makes the Autopilot safer than an average vehicle. Early this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters that the Autopilot system in the Model S was “probably better than a person right now.”
According to an official report of the accident, the crash occurred on a divided highway with a median strip. A tractor-trailer truck in the westbound lane made a left turn onto a side road, making a perpendicular crossing in front of oncoming traffic in the eastbound lane. The driver of the truck didn’t see the Tesla, nor did the self-driving Tesla and its human occupant notice the trailer. The Tesla collided with the truck without the human or the Autopilot system ever applying the brakes. The Tesla passed under the center of the trailer at windshield height and came to rest at the side of the road after hitting a fence and a pole.