Daily Report: Tesla Driver Dies in ‘Autopilot’ Accident


Photo

A diagram from the police report about the Tesla crash shows how the vehicle in self-driving mode (V02) struck a tractor-trailer (V01) as it was turning left.

Credit
Florida Highway Patrol

The death of a Florida man who investigators say was killed while driving a Tesla Model S in its autopilot mode is a reminder that self-driving car technology is still very much a work in progress.

The accident, on May 7, is likely the first death involving a self-driving car, Bill Vlasic and Neal Boudette wrote on Thursday evening. The Model S slammed into a tractor-trailer that had crossed into its path.

The Tesla, of course, requires a driver, but it does have autonomous driving features that can do things like manage the vehicle in stop-and-go traffic. It is far cry from Google’s vision of a truly autonomous car that doesn’t even have a steering wheel, but it is one among many high-end vehicles that have the ability to do something without human intervention.

The biggest challenge of this technology is those moments when the car has to hand control back to the driver. In a January 2016 article written by John Markoff, Sebastian Thrun, one of the pioneers of autonomous driving technology, described the challenges of using the autopilot feature of the Model S.

Dr. Thrun, who described himself as an enthusiastic Tesla owner, said he had to intervene more than a dozen times in a 220-mile drive. The car did not follow curves easily and did not slow down when approaching curves, he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the Florida accident.

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