First Fatality Recorded in Tesla Autopilot Accident

Last October, Tesla Motors launched a software update for its Model S roadsters that gave the vehicles a limited Autopilot functionality. While these vehicles aren’t fully autonomous, they can effectively drive themselves as long as a human driver is present to monitor traffic conditions and intervene in the event of an emergency. After the self-driving functionality was released, Tesla’s vehicles logged more than 130 million miles on Autopilot without being involved in a fatal accident. In May of this year, however, a Florida driver was killed when their Model S collided with a tractor-trailer while operating on Autopilot.

The accident occurred when the tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection on a divided highway with no traffic light. According to Tesla, the tall, white side of the trailer was obscured by a bright sky, confusing both the driver and Autopilot system.

Now, the NHTSA’s Office of Defects is conducting a preliminary investigation into the cause of the crash. While Consumer Reports has called on Tesla Motors to disable its Autopilot functionality until it can be improved, Elon Musk has continued to defend the otherwise impressive safety record of the Autopilot system. Tesla is also reportedly working on a blog post which will provide drivers with a more thorough explanation of the Autopilot system’s purpose, capabilities and limitations.

The important thing to remember is that in order to succeed in the long run, self-driving vehicles don’t have to be perfect – they just have to be better than humans. Given that human error accounts for more than 90 percent of all car accidents, that goal might not be so hard for manufacturers to achieve.

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