A fatal accident has prompted an investigation by federal highway safety regulators, in which the driver of a Tesla Motors’s Model S car operating in Autopilot mode was killed in a collision with a truck, the US government and Tesla disclosed on Thursday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA) said preliminary reports indicate the crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection.
The investigation of the first known fatality to involve a Model S operating on Autopilot comes as Tesla and other automakers are gearing up to offer systems that allow vehicles to pilot themselves under certain conditions across a wide range of vehicles over the next several year.
The NHTSA said it is investigating 25,000 Model S sedans that are equipped with the Autopilot system.
The accident, which according to a report from the Florida Highway Patrol killed 40-year-old Joshua Brown on a clear, dry roadway on 7 May in Williston, Florida, will add fuel to a debate within the auto industry and in legal circles over the safety of systems that take partial control of steering and braking from drivers.
The company emphasised the unusual nature of the crash and said it was the first fatality in more than 130 million miles of use.
Luxury electric car maker Tesla said in a blogpost on Thursday that “neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”
When Autopilot launched in October, Musk cautioned that the hotly anticipated function was in beta mode, or a test phase of development, with full “hands-off” driving not recommended.
A host of subsequent videos posted by Tesla drivers on YouTube showed near-misses on the road with Autopilot, prompting Musk to say he might curb the function to minimise the possibility of people doing “crazy things”.