After a person died when their Tesla was unable to avoid an accident while in Autopilot mode, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation.
In a blog post, Tesla defended its autopilot system, and notes the investigation is “preliminary:”
This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.
And Tesla’s account of the incident:
What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. 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. 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 company also notes that it implicitly notes that Autopilot is in beta before a driver activates it, and that drivers are never encouraged to stop paying attention to the road or be in position to regain control of the car.
According to Electrek, the driver is no stranger to Tesla’s Autopilot system, and had a near-miss a few months ago in an eerily similar circumstance. In the prior incident, a large white utility truck nearly merged into his vehicle.
It seems Tesla’s Autopilot has an issue detecting large white vehicles, but that’s something we’re sure the NHTSA will rule on.