Man killed after autonomous Tesla Model S crashes into tractor-trailer

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 7/1/2016

An Ohio man and former Navy SEAL was killed in a fatal crash while his Tesla Model S was in autopilot mode. According to Tesla’s website, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be investigating the case.

In a blog post on Tesla’s website, the company acknowledged that the Model S was driving on a divided highway with the autopilot feature engaged. A tractor-trailer crossed the highway perpendicular to the Tesla.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said in its post.

The Tesla drove itself under the truck with the trailer impacting the windshield. The driver of the Model S was killed.

Although Tesla did not mention the man by name, several media outlets are reporting that Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, was the driver of the Model S. One month before the crash, Brown posted a video on YouTube demonstrating how the autopilot feature saved his Model S from a side collision. An obituary for Brown reveals he was a Navy SEAL for 11 years before creating his own technology company, Nexu Innovations.

Brown had acquired eight speeding tickets in six years, according to The Associated Press.

Tesla noted that the company’s default settings on the Model S disables the autopilot feature. The company “requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.” Once the autopilot feature is activated, drivers are informed to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times and they are to maintain control and responsibility for the car.

“The system also makes frequent checks to ensure that the driver’s hands remain on the wheel and provides visual and audible alerts if hands-on is not detected,” Tesla’s blog post explains. “It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.”

According to Tesla, this is the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles where the autopilot feature was engaged. NHTSA’s preliminary evaluation will determine whether the autopilot system performed to expectations.

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