Federal probe of first self-driving software fatality

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a "preliminary evaluation" of the performance of self-driving car software in a Model S Tesla that was involved in a fatal crash, according to the agency's website.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a “preliminary evaluation” of the performance of self-driving car software in a Model S Tesla that was involved in a fatal crash, according to the agency’s website.

The announcement doesn’t say when or where the crash occurred but states that an investigation was opened on the basis of information received from Tesla. 

There are few further details available on the Tesla blog, which states that “this is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles [traveled] where [the self-driving] Autopilot [system] was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles.”

The blog post says the vehicle was on a divided highway “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.”


The post adds that if the car had impacted the trailer from behind or head-on “its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.”

In this case, however, “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.”

The Wall Street Journal names the driver as 40-year old Ohioan Joshua Brown and says the collision happened on a highway in Williston, Florida, citing regulators and a Florida Highway Patrol report. 

Shaun Waterman

Written by Shaun Waterman

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