First self-driving car death involving Tesla S using autopilot

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US regulators confirm the first self-driving car death involving a Tesla S driver using autopilot.

Tesla first reported the death in a blog post:  "We learned yesterday evening that NHTSA is opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during a recent fatal crash that occurred in a Model S. This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations."

The company stated:  "Following our standard practice, Tesla informed NHTSA about the incident immediately after it occurred. 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."

In October, owners of newer models of the Tesla S turned on their vehicles and discovered their cars could nearly drive themselves.

Officially Tesla describes vehicles running its Version 7.0 software as "semi-autonomous," supposedly still requiring the driver to drive at all times. But with autopilot engaged, those vehicles change lanes, brake, steer, accelerate, decelerate and avoid obstacles by themselves, thanks to a forward-looking camera that reads road signs, a radar, a GPS system and 12 ultrasonic sensors that give the car 16 feet of awareness in all directions at any speed.

The Autopilot system currently can't react to traffic lights or stop signs.

Tesla says it is important to note that Tesla disables autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled. When drivers activate autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times," and that "you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it.