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Tesla's Autopilot leads to first driver-less car related death

The driver of a Tesla Model S has died in the US after having a collision with a tractor trailer while his vehicle was operating in the company's self-driving Autopilot mode.

Joshua Brown from Ohio was killed while driving on a highway in his Tesla Model S. He had engaged the Autopilot feature of his vehicle and neither its sensors nor he noticed that a large truck was signalling that it wanted to move over into his lane. Brown died on impact when his Model S went under the truck's trailer.

Tesla has issued a statement regarding the fatal crash in which it said: ““What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged 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 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.”

This is the first time where a driver using a self-driving vehicle has died as the result of a crash. Google's own autonomous vehicles have been in a few minor accidents but these only resulted in cosmetic damage to the vehicles in question. However in this accident, Tesla's autonomous Autopilot mode is at fault for not being able to detect the tractor trailer on a clear sunny day with ideal driving conditons.

It has seen significant improvements but it is still in a public beta phase and drivers must still remain vigilant while using this feature with their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

Image Credit: Taina Sohlman / Shutterstock

Anthony Spadafora
After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal.