Incident 230: Model 3 Tesla on Autopilot Crashed into a Truck in Florida, Killing Driver

Description: In Florida, a Model 3 Tesla on Autopilot mode crashed into a tractor-trailer truck, killing the 50-year-old driver.
Alleged: Tesla developed and deployed an AI system, which harmed Jeremy Beren Banner and Tesla users.

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Dickinson, Ingrid. (2019-03-01) Incident Number 230. in Lam, K. (ed.) Artificial Intelligence Incident Database. Responsible AI Collaborative.

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Tesla’s advanced driver assist system, Autopilot, was active when a Model 3 driven by a 50-year-old Florida man crashed into the side of a tractor-trailer truck on March 1st, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states in a report released on Thursday. Investigators reviewed video and preliminary data from the vehicle and found that neither the driver nor Autopilot “executed evasive maneuvers” before striking the truck.

The driver, Jeremy Beren Banner, was killed in the crash. It is at least the fourth fatal crash of a Tesla vehicle involving Autopilot.

This crash is eerily similar to another one involving a Tesla in 2016 near Gainesville, Florida. In that incident, Joshua Brown was killed when his Model S sedan collided with a semitrailer truck on a Florida highway in May 2016, making him the first known fatality in a semi-autonomous car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determined that a “lack of safeguards” contributed to Brown’s death. Meanwhile, today’s report is just preliminary, and the NTSB declined to place blame on anyone.

Investigators state that Banner engaged Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision. “From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel,” the NTSB said. The vehicle was traveling at 68 mph when it crashed. The roof of the Model 3 was sheared off as it hit the truck’s trailer, passing underneath, and then coming to a stop 1,600 feet away.

In a statement, Tesla confirmed that series of events. “We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy,” a Tesla spokesperson said. “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. For the past three quarters we have released quarterly safety data directly from our vehicles which demonstrates that.”

In addition to the two fatal crashes in Florida, Tesla’s Autopilot has been involved in at least two other fatal collisions: the March 23rd, 2018 death of Wei “Walter” Huang in Mountain View, California; and the January 20th, 2016 death of Gao Yaning in Handan, China.

There have been several non-fatal crashes involving Autopilot as well: one from January 22nd, 2018 involving Autopilot, and one from August 2017 involving a battery fire.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been criticized for overstating the autonomous capabilities of his vehicles, while also beta testing semi-autonomous features on his customers — with occasional dire consequences. The company sells a version of Autopilot called “Full Self-Driving,” even though drivers are consistently warned to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road when operating it. At an event for investors in April, Musk claimed that Tesla would have “a million” self-driving Tesla vehicles operating as taxis by the end of 2020.

In the past, Musk has blamed fatal crashes involving Autopilot on driver inexperience. “When there is a serious accident it is almost always, in fact maybe always, the case that it is an experienced user, and the issue is more one of complacency,” Musk said last year. “They just get too used to it. That tends to be more of an issue. It’s not a lack of understanding of what Autopilot can do. It’s [drivers] thinking they know more about Autopilot than they do.”

Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged when Model 3 crashed into truck, report states