The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into a fatal crash dealing with Tesla's Autopilot system.
In a statement given to Reuters, NHTSA said the driver of a 2015 Tesla Model S was killed while the vehicle was in the Autopilot mode. The crash took place on May 7th in Williston, Florida when a tractor-trailer was making a left turn across a divided highway. Tesla in a lengthy blog post said: "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 Model S drove underneath the trailer with the bottom making contact with the windshield.
The Verge reports the driver was 40-year old Joshua Brown who filmed various videos of his Model S. One of the videos on his YouTube channel showed his Model avoiding an accident with a bucket truck.
NHTSA's investigation will look the design and performance of the Model S and its various components, including Autopilot. It should be noted this is standard practice for NHTSA to investigate any crash where the vehicle's system could be at fault.
Tesla's blog post says this is first known fatality in over 130 million miles since Autopilot was turned on.
Autopilot has been a source of controversy since Tesla rolled it out last year. Numerous videos of Model S owners filming themselves in dangerous situations and sometimes showing the system not working caused Tesla to make some drastic changes. These included limiting the types of road the system could be turned on and making checks to see if there was someone sitting in the driver's seat. Tesla has said time and time again that Autopilot is a beta feature and that the driver needed to pay attention.
"Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert," Tesla said in their post.
"It is important to note that Tesla disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled. When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times," and that "you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it. "
Nevertheless, this crash puts autonomous technologies and Tesla under some intense scrutiny.