Tesla has published a detailed blog post in which it explains that the NHTSA – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – is investigating a fatal accident that occurred in May this year which saw the driver of one of its Model S vehicles lose his life after a collision with a truck.
The Tesla Model S car was in autopilot mode at the time, but the software was unable to identify the truck’s trailer, which was travelling across the car’s path. Neither the car, nor its driver reportedly applied the brakes before the accident occurred.
Predictably, the accident has called into question the safety of not just Tesla’s autopilot mode, but self-driving cars in general. Tesla has subsequently taken to its company blog to fill in some of the details of the accident while pointing out that its software was not to blame. The NHTSA will be carrying out its investigation in order to ascertain just that.
Explaining the accident, this is what the company had to say about Tesla’s autopilot mode, and its internal workings:
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. Additionally, every time that Autopilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to “Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time.” 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. It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.
Following on from Tesla’s blog post, further details of the accident have begun to appear, with reports from investigators into the May accident suggesting that witnesses saw a portable DVD player in the Tesla in the immediate aftermath of the accident. It was still playing a Harry Potter DVD at the time.
While other authorities are reporting that the presence of a DVD player is unconfirmed and with no mention of such a thing in the initial reports of the accident, Tesla has again been quick to point out that streaming video to the car’s in-dash touchscreen is not possible.
An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the accident is still underway, and Tesla has provided information downloaded from the car’s ‘black box’ to investigators. Whatever the outcome here, it’s important to remember that a family lost a loved one, no matter what the cause. That’s more important than a fancy self-driving car no matter which way you slice it.
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