First self-driving vehicle death

"Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky"
June 30, 2016

Tesla Model S (credit: Tesla)

A Tesla Model S car was involved in a fatal crash yesterday, Tesla Motors announced today, June 30, on its blog.

“Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old Ohio owner of a Tesla Model S, died when his electric car drove under the trailer of an 18-wheel truck on a highway in Williston, Fla.,” The Wall Street Journal reports, based on local news reports.

“The vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S,” according to the blog. “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.”

The blog also noted that whenever autopilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to “Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time” and “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. It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.”

Tesla said it reported the accident to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration immediately after learning about it yesterday.

Brown maintained a YouTube channel focused on the Tesla 7.0 Autopilot.