A fatality that occurred while a Tesla Model S was being operated in auto pilot mode last May has prompted an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into the technology on some 25,000 of the electric vehicles. Tesla recently disclosed the accident that occurred on May 7 in which the driver, Joshua Brown was killed when his car struck a semi-trailer that turned left in front of his vehicle in Williston, Florida.

Tesla released a statement in a blog post that said “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 incident raises concerns about autonomous operation of vehicles. In many states where such operation is allowed, the driver is required to keep their hands on the wheels and be prepared to take over control of the car at all times. Tesla’s statement further noted that “when drivers active Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot ‘is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times’, and that ‘you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle’ while using it.”

The NHTSA has opened up a preliminary investigation and said the incident “calls for an examination of the design and performance of any driving aids in use at the time of the crash.”


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