Tesla confirms first ‘Autopilot’ death after Model S slams into tractor trailer

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-30 17:24:47-04

The driver of a Model S died recently while using Tesla’s Autopilot function, the first such fatality, the company confirmed Thursday.

Investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating the crash, Tesla confirmed in a statement.

“Our condolences for the tragic loss,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted.

The driver of the car was on a divided highway using Autopilot when a tractor trailer crossed the highway perpendicular to the Model S, according to Tesla. Here is what happened next:

“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. 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.”

The company emphasized that Autopilot is “still in a public beta phase” and each time it is engaged the car warns drivers that is only an assist feature, and that they should “keep their hands on the wheel at all times.”

Tesla addressed the government investigation, saying:

“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. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.”

The victim’s identity has not been released, but according to the statement he was a “friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission.”

“We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”