In Brief
The first fatality in a Tesla running on Autopilot mode is prompting investigation from the NHTSA regarding autonomous vehicle safety.

Autopilot

The Tesla Model S was involved in a fatal car crash just yesterday while running on Autopilot.

The accident happened on a divided highway in central Florida where it crashed into a tractor trailer that was running perpendicular to the autonomous vehicle. Neither vehicles saw the rig or the trailer and brakes weren’t applied.

Because of the high ride height of the trailer and its position on the road, the Model S sustained the first impact on the windshield. According to a statement released by Tesla Motors, had the car hit the front or the back of the trailer, it would have activated the car’s safety systems instead of passing under the trailer, possibly preventing serious injury.

Behind the wheel of the autonomous vehicle was 40-year old Joshua Brown from Ohio. The truck driver involved in the accident was not injured.

130 Million Miles

Autopilot, which was activated when the accident occurred, has been used for over 130 million miles. Pegged against the average national and global average, a fatality occurs every 94 million miles in the US and every 60 million miles around the world.

Following standard practice, Tesla has already informed the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the incident and is currently conducting what Tesla says is a “preliminary evaluation” of the car’s Autopilot system. Depending on findings, this could potentially lead to a recall of the vehicles.

Tesla reiterates that customers are required to agree that the system is in a “public beta phase” before they can use it. The system was designed with the expectation that drivers keep their hands on the wheel and that the driver is required to “maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.”

Investigation

The current regulatory authority in the United States, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),  plans on investigating  25,000 Model S sedans equipped with the autopilot systems.

They are following standard protocol as mentioned in their statement, as the NHTSA  “calls for an examination of the design and performance of any driving aids in use at the time of the crash.”

Below is a video uploaded  in April by Brown on the built-in safety mechanisms of the Model S autopilot: