Fatal Tesla and Semi-truck Crash Prompts NHTSA To Investigate Tesla's Autopilot Systemby Jana Ritter - Published: 7/01/2016
Last month a fatal accident occurring in Williston, Florida, involving a Tesla Model S on Autopilot crashing into the rear of a trailer as the truck driver was making a left turn, left the Tesla driver dead and the truck driver possible facing charges. However, yesterday it was announced that the NHTSA has launched a preliminary investigation to ensure Tesla’s breakthrough “self-driving” feature was working properly and the truck driver has also come forward claiming that the Tesla driver was watching a movie at the time of the accident, which was not mentioned in the initial police report.
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The accident was initially described in the local ‘police beat’ as follows:
“When the truck made a left turn onto NE 140th Court in front of the car, the car’s roof struck the underside of the trailer as it passed under the trailer. The car continued to travel east on U.S. 27A until it left the roadway on the south shoulder and struck a fence. The car smashed through two fences and struck a power pole. The car rotated counter-clockwise while sliding to its final resting place about 100 feet south of the highway. Brown died at the scene. Charges are pending.”
The police report made no mention of a moving playing in the vehicle and Tesla says that while the Model S is equipped with a 17-inch screen, the video playback feature is set to only work for the rear camera feed and cannot play any media. But Frank Baressi, the truck driver and owner of Okemah Express LLC, told media that the Tesla driver was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him,” he said. “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,”Baressi said. While he also acknowledged that he couldn’t see the movie playing, he said that he had heard it.
Interestingly, on Friday the Florida Highway Patrol somewhat confirmed Baressi’s claim saying that investigators did find an aftermarket DVD player in the wreckage. Sergeant Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol, told media that a portable DVD player was found in the vehicle, but she didn’t say whether or not it was playing during the accident. She also said there was no camera found, mounted on the dash or of any kind.
The deceased driver, 40-year-old Joshua D. Brown of Ohio, was a former Navy Seal and owner of the technology company, Nexxu Innovations. Whether or not he was in fact watching a movie, the government said it is investigating the performance of the Tesla Model S sedan’s Autopilot system. If the car had indeed been in “self-driving” mode at the time of the accident, investigators say its cameras failed to distinguish the white side of the turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn't do the job of automatically activate its brakes, as it's supposed to. Sadly, a month earlier Brown had praised his vehicle, which he named “Tessy,” for its sophisticated "Autopilot" system preventing a collision on an interstate. Tesla says this was the first known death in over 130 million miles of Autopilot operation.