All the work done to improve self-driving technology and put driverless cars on the market could come to a screeching halt. Uber was forced to stop self-driving tests in Arizona following a fatal crash and now, Tesla is facing similar consequences after the driver of a Model X SUV died while Autopilot was engaged.
On March 23rd, a Model X car crashed into a highway lane divider and caught fire. The driver was brought to the hospital but died soon afterwards. Officials have stated that at the moment of the crash, Tesla Autopilot was active. The autonomous system can brake, accelerate, and steer on its own, but the regulations for using this system are clear – the driver has to stay behind the wheel at all times.
If the driver lets go of the wheel, Tesla’s alert system kicks in. Sensors send visual and audible warnings before stopping altogether. If the Autopilot system was on, then these sensors should have alerted the driver before the crash occurred.
According to a statement on the company’s official website, “the driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive. The driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision.” Theoretically, the driver should have been able to see the divider and take action in those six seconds. In addition, it is unclear if the driverless system detected the barrier. There are no definite answers for either hypothetical as of now.
This is not the first time a Tesla driver using the car’s self-driving feature has died in a car crash. In May 2016, Joshua Brown lost his life after his Tesla Model S collided with a truck in Florida.