I’m not ashamed to say that the Tesla Model S is the greatest car ever made. Not only does the Model S push the envelope of affordable performance, push the envelope of automotive engineering, or establish a benchmark for automotive safety and efficiency, but they’ve accomplished these milestones against the pressures of an automotive and oil industry that has been less than enthused about anything that the Tesla company stood for. When Tesla announced the Autopilot program and shared all of the cool and neat features the Model S will be able to do, I was completely wowed, but just like every skeptical person out there, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Back in July 2016 a report surfaced documenting the first death related to semi-autonomous driving. The driver of the Tesla, Joshua Brown, was driving in Autopilot mode when an 18-wheeler had cut in front of the Model S. The autopilot function failed to detect the 18-wheeler at the high rate of speed and the crash caused the Tesla’s roof to be sheared completely off.
Now Chinese media has reported another Tesla crash, this time the crash was recorded via dashcam. Jump to the 4:00 minute mark to see the crash. You’ve been warned.
The time of the accident was actually in January 2016, making this the first autonomous driving casualty, but the case has been under investigation for the first half of the year. According to Electrek:
A video of the accident was captured by the dashcam of the Tesla Model S driver, a 23-year man borrowing his dad’s car according to a report (Chinese). He was driving on the highway reportedly in the Hong Kong and Macao jurisdiction when his car hit a streetsweeper truck on the side of the road at highway speed, killing the driver.
The police found no sign that the vehicle applied the brakes before hitting the truck and the reports claims that the Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident.
The dashcam footage doesn’t seem to show the vehicle slowing down before hitting the truck
The family of the driver reportedly sued Tesla in Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court, citing that the automaker should take responsibility for the Autopilot failing to prevent the accident.
Clearly the accident could have been avoided had the driver been paying attention, and it’s easy for Tesla to point out their Autopilot disclaimer of:
Warning: Traffic-Aware Cruise Control can not detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 50 mph (80 km/h) and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object, bicycle, or pedestrian is in front of you instead. Always pay attention to the road ahead and stay prepared to take immediate corrective action. Depending on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to avoid a collision can result in serious injury or death. In addition, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control may react to vehicles or objects that either do not exist or are not in the lane of travel, causing Model S to slow down unnecessarily or inappropriately.
It seems tough to sell semi-autonomous driving without also selling the appeal of convenience. When people buy these cars and use its autonomous features they WILL stop paying attention to the road, and they WILL present themselves in these potentially fatal situations. Until the moment comes where a car can fully drive itself without human intervention, it’s probably best for Tesla, and all automakers currently in the game, to downplay their self-driving capabilities. It’s either that or educate the hell out of their consumers to pay attention.