NHTSA opens inquiry into fatal Tesla Model S Autopilot crash

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Joshua Brown, 45, of Canton, Ohio was killed when his Tesla Model S crashed into the back of a tractor trailer while his vehicle was in autopilot mode. The fatal accident, which happened on May 7, occurred in Williston, Florida, approximately 100 miles northwest of Orlando. His Tesla Model S was equipped with the Tesla Autopilot v7.0 system.

This is considered to be one of the first fatality of an autonomous/self-driving vehicle.

Brown was a huge advocate for the vehicle and its Autopilot system. His video about the system and its abilities is very popular.

Regarding his video, Brown wrote:

I’m a technical guy and I am truly amazed at how quickly it is learning. It has gotten MUCH better at curvy roads. It slows down to an appropriate speed for most curves (though it doesn’t seem to get ALL of them right right yet). It also does NOT dive off exits any more. That used to be a 50/50 chance on whether it would follow the lane marking off an exit if you were driving down the right lane.

Things autopilot has troubles with:

1. Vertical hills: Meaning, if you crest over the top of a hill the camera seems to have a hard time figuring out if the lines continue straight or go to the right or left. I urge caution when you see yourself cresting over the top of a relatively steep hill.

2. Stopped vehicles: the car sees moving vehicles GREAT. Even really slowly moving vehicles. It has a harder time with stopped ones. I suspect this is due to how radar works. I won’t go into the physics of that hear aside from to say it’s because of Doppler Shift. I believe the camera is typically what ends up picking up on the stopped vehicles. Educated guess on my part. I’ve never had it NOT see it and not stop, but I’ve been bold enough to let it really need to slam on the brakes pretty hard. I don’t see this as an over all issue. It’s learning fast and getting better at those things. It’s autopilot. You do need to pay some attention to the road. Though not a whole lot…

I’m guessing the second generation sensors will solve the 2 issues above easily. 🙂

This accident is now under investigation by the NHTSA and more details will be available soon.

Check out this related TFLcar video of the top five cool features of the Tesla Model X:

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Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.