A California court has brought two counts of manslaughter against a 27-year-old driver. While he had Autopilot on, his vehicle ran through a red light and crashed into another car, killing two people. This is the first court decision to result in the Tesla owner being charged, despite confirmed use of Autopilot.
This is a historic decision. Until then, a driver involved in a fatal accident had never been charged if there had been proof that a partially automated driving system, such as Autopilot, could be responsible for the incident. It is not the case anymore.
Indeed, two Californian prosecutors retained two counts of manslaughter against a young 27-year-old VTC driver. On December 29, 2019 in a suburb of Los Angeles, his Tesla Model S ran through a red light at full speed before crashing into another nearby car. The toll is heavy: two people are killed instantlyand two other passengers aboard the Tesla are injured. Autopilot was confirmed to be on.
NHTSA recalls driver responsibility
These charges, filed in October 2021, were only publicized last week by local channel KPIX 5 and the Associated Press. After the accident, the US federal agency in charge of road safety, the NHTSA, has assigned its special investigation team to investigate the tragedy. In its first conclusions, the organization recalls the responsibility of the driver:
“Whether or not an L2 (Level 2) automated driving system is engaged, every available vehicle requires the human driver to be in control at all times, and all state laws hold the human driver responsible for the operation of their vehicles. Some advanced driver assistance features can promote safety by helping drivers avoid crashes and lessen the severity of crashes that do occur, but as with all motor vehicle technology and equipment, drivers should use them correctly and responsibly”, said a spokesperson for the agency.
A historic and meaningful verdict
Remember, however, that Tesla has always informed its drivers that they must be ready to react and take the wheel at any time by using Autopilot or FSD. Either way, this is a historic decision. This is the first-ever charge involving driver assistance technology widely used in the United States. In this case, Tesla’s Autopilot.
If you follow the news of the brand on Phonandroid, you are aware that this is not the first time that this system has been implicated in fatal accidents. We remember this fatal collision in April 2021 of a Model S which claimed the lives of two people. Since the deployment of Autopilot in 2015, NHTSA estimates the technology has killed at least ten people in 26 crashes.
It is this series of incidents that motivated the federal agency to officially open an investigation into Autopilot. These investigations, which are still in progress, relate to 750,000 vehiclesamong Model X, Model Y, Model S and Model 3 entered into circulation between 2014 and 2021. Also, note that this court decision comes after what seems to be the first major incident involving FSD (Full Self Driving)Tesla’s fully autonomous driving system.
The FSD also implicated
While the FSD was activated, a Tesla Model Y pulled into the wrong lane on the freeway, causing a major pile-up. Fortunately, no casualties were reported. However, the FSD quickly found itself at the center of a new controversy. In January 2022, several drivers noticed the integration of potentially dangerous FSD driving profiles. The “Assertive” mode in particular can encourage the Tesla to make sliding stops (no total stop at a stop sign, a panel or a priority), a risky maneuver that violates US traffic laws.
As our colleagues from the Associated Press remind us, the legislation around autonomous vehicles is still too vague in the USA. In the eyes of Bryan Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies automated vehicles in particular, Tesla could very well “be held criminally, civilly or morally guilty” if it were proven that the manufacturer has deployed dangerous technology on American roads. For the moment, Tesla has not yet officially responded to this matter.
Source: Associated Press