2016 Tesla Model S facelift 2

The first-known fatality involving Tesla’s Autopilot system has been reported, prompting the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to open a preliminary investigation into the Tesla Model S that was involved in the incident. The safety regulators will determine if the system worked according to expectations.

An excerpt from a posting on Tesla’s official website describes the May 7 incident – “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.”

As a result, the Model S passed under the tall height of the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer colliding with the windshield of the electric vehicle (EV), resulting in the death of the Tesla driver. A police report in the Levy County Journal said the top of the vehicle “was torn off by the force of the collision.”

Frank Baressi, 62, the driver of the tractor trailer told Associated Press that the Tesla driver was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” and driving quickly when the incident occured. “It (the movie) was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi said.

Tesla Autopilot-01

According to the company, if the Model S had impacted the front or rear of the trailer, its crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury. Tesla explains that the Autopilot feature found in its vehicles is disabled by default, and requires the driver to acknowledge that is still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.

Furthermore, Autopilot is described as an assist feature that still requires the driver to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel at all times, in the event of a situation where the driver immediately needs to take corrective measures.

Reports also revealed that the Tesla driver killed in the incident is a 40-year-old man from Ohio by the name of Joshua Brown. Brown had recently uploaded a dashcam recording that demonstrated how the Autopilot system on his Model S managed to avoid a side collision from taking place, while he was listening to an audiobook.