Self-driving Tesla car in fatal crash during Autopilot mode

Tesla Model S

An investigation is underway by US authorities over what is believed to be the first ever fatality involving self-driving technology.

On 07 May, Joshua Brown was travelling along Route 27 in Florida, in the Tesla Model S. The car is capable of keeping itself in its lane, and moving or braking to avoid potential collisions, using an array of safety technology such as radars, cameras and sensors, as it reacts to traffic.

Mr Brown was using the Autopilot feature, introduced by Tesla last October, which gives the car’s technology partial control over the vehicle. When using this mode, drivers are required to hold onto the steering wheel at all times, maintaining control of the vehicle.

Tesla released a statement, saying: “What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S.

“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 high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.

“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.”

As a result of the incident, the car crash is the subject of an investigation by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to determine if the Autopilot feature was at fault, or if it performed as expected.

While it is by no means the first traffic accident involving a vehicle using self-driving technology, this is the most serious incident by some way. It comes after more than 130 million miles of safe driving using autonomous vehicles, according to Tesla, who say that Autopilot mode is only intended for motorway driving.