All the work done to improve self-driving technology and put driverless cars to the market could come to a standstill. After Uber was forced to stop self-driving tests in Arizona following a fatal crash, Tesla is facing similar consequences. In its case, 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. At the moment of the crash, Tesla Autopilot was active, said officials. The autonomous system can brake, accelerate and steer on its own, but the rules are clear – the driver has to stay behind the wheel at all times.
Otherwise, Tesla’s alert system kicks in; if the driver lets go of the wheel, the sensors send visual and audible warnings before stopping altogether. So, what happened in this case?
“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive,” a statement on the company’s officials website reads. “The driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision.” In those five seconds prior to the crash, the driver should have been able to see the divider and take an action, but none of that happened.
Did the driverless system detect the barrier? There’s no definite answer for that right now.
This is not the first time a Tesla driver died in a car crash. In May 2016, Joshua Brown – who was driving a Model S at the time – lost his life after colliding with a truck in Florida.