Almost two months after a driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in a car crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a formal investigation into the self-driving car.
The accident occurred on May 7 and is considered to be the first death resulting from a self-driving car. The vehicle was in “autopilot” mode, the Administration stated.
According to the New York Times, a statement by the agency said it learned of the incident from Tesla, and an investigative team has been sent to look at the vehicle and the crash site in Williston, Florida. The team is examining the car’s “autopilot” mode and what role it might’ve played in the crash.
“Preliminary reports indicate the vehicle crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection on a noncontrolled access highway,” the agency said. “The driver of the Tesla died due to injuries sustained in the crash.”
According to Forbes, the victim was a friend to Tesla and someone who strongly believed in the company’s mission. The police department confirmed to the publication that the victim was 40-year-old Joshua Brown, who was an avid user of Tesla’s “autopilot” feature and filmed videos for his YouTube page.
The technology that allows a car to pilot itself has been road-tested for years — Google has developed a prototype that doesn’t even have a steering wheel, for example — and that progress is beginning to sneak into consumer vehicles. In October, Tesla rolled out the software update unlocking “Autopilot” elements that allow the company’s Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes with the tap of a turn signal and manage speed with traffic-aware cruise control.
Jennifer Kent, connected car analyst for Parks Associates, estimated automated systems will become more commonplace over the next three to five years, and the next five to 10 years will see greater autonomous driving. It requires a driver present in the front seat still in command of the wheel and brakes to take control in emergent situations at the computers’ prompting.