By Chloe Chan
On March 1st, a 50-year-old man’s Tesla crashed into a truck at Delray Beach, Florida. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) declared Tesla’s driver assistant, Autopilot, was active ten seconds before the crash. The Tesla was traveling over the speed limit at 68 mph.
The driver, Jeremey Banner, was killed in the accident. According to The Verge, a technology news and media network operated by Vox Media, the crash was “at least the fourth fatal crash of a Tesla vehicle involving Autopilot.”
The top of the Tesla was shaved off in the crash, making it seem as if it did not have a roof. It broke off when hitting the truck’s trailer and landed about 1,600 feet on the other side of the truck.
“Tesla drivers have logged more than one billion miles with Autopilot engaged, and our data shows that, when used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance.” a Tesla spokesperson clarified.
Tesla warns drivers always to have their hands on the wheel and be ready to turn Autopilot off at any second. BBC stated, “…the driver did not appear to have his hands on the wheel and neither he nor the Autopilot took any evasive action.”
The reports from NTSB raises the question: Is Autopilot still the safe driver assistant Tesla claims it to be? While Tesla makes it clear that Autopilot should be used with the driver’s full attention, critics point out that there could also be a malfunction in Tesla’s technology.
The Delray Beach incident is not the first fatal crash involving Autopilot. Another similar crash occurred in May, 2016. According to Sun Sentinel, “An NTSB investigation into that crash focused on limitations of the Autopilot system and criticized Tesla for failing to implement safeguards to prevent drivers from becoming disengaged and over-reliant on Autopilot.”
The 2016 crash took place in Gainesville, Florida. The driver, Joshua Brown, was on a highway in his Tesla Model S. Strangely similar to the recent crash, Brown’s Tesla crashed into a semi-trailer truck.
NTSB confirmed that Autopilot was working properly during the crash. Sun Sentinel emphasized, “While Autopilot can recognize and maneuver around vehicles traveling ahead of a Tesla in the same lane, it was not designed to react to objects such as the semitrailer that suddenly pull across the Tesla’s path…”
Whether the fault was from Autopilot or human error, deeper research has yet to be conducted.