The first reported fatality linked to autonomous driving was reported last May when a Tesla driver slammed into a semi-trailer rig. The incident occurred in Williston, Florida and the vehicle's Autopilot system was engaged.
In NHTSA's report, the crash happened when the semi-trailer rig turned left into the path of the car at a highway intersection. Investigators said the car's roof struck the underside of the trailer and the car carried on driving. It then went off the road, hitting two wire fences and a pole before coming to a rest about 100 feet away. Police reported that the driver was dead at the scene.
Telsa has since released a statement regarding the incident, saying:
“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.”
The automaker adds that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times," and owners “need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using the system. 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.
Telsa is currently cooperating with the authorities regarding the tragic incident. Tesla has also extended their sympathies to the driver's family.