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Tesla driver using Model S ‘autopilot’ function dies in crash

In what’s believed to be the first road fatality involving a vehicle under the control of Tesla’s self-driving function, a man has died in a collision with a transport truck.

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The fatal crash happened May 7 in Florida. Joshua Brown, 40, of Ohio was in his Model S Tesla with the autopilot function activated, when it failed to detect an 18-wheel tractor trailer crossing the highway.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into the collision, according to a Tesla blog post regarding the fatality. Posted Thursday, titled “a Tragic Loss,” the post says it is “the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated.”

The man was travelling on a divided highway when the large truck crossed in front of the vehicle.

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Bright sunlight likely prevented both the driver and the autopilot from noticing the side of the tractor trailer, which was white, “so the brake was not applied,” the post says.

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The Tesla passed under the vehicle, its windshield colliding with the bottom of the trailer.

“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,” Tesla writes.

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The car, however, didn’t stop there, according to a report from the Levy County Journal.

“When the truck made a left turn onto NE 140th Court in front of the car, the car’s roof struck the underside of the trailer as it passed under the trailer. The car continued to travel east on U.S. 27A until it left the roadway on the south shoulder and struck a fence.

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“The car smashed through two fences and struck a power pole. The car rotated counter-clockwise while sliding to its final resting place about 100 feet south of the highway. Brown died at the scene.”

Brown was an avid user of the autopilot feature, uploading videos to his YouTube page documenting his experience with the function — including a video of one close call.

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Tesla says it informed the NHTSA following the crash, and that the agency’s investigation is standard procedure.

“It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.”

The autopilot function must be operated with the assistance of an attentive driver, Tesla states, and drivers are notified that they are to keep their hands on the wheel when autopilot is activated.

“The customer who died in this crash had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss…We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

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