Tesla Autopilot-01

The first Tesla Autopilot-related crash fatality reportedly occured in China in January, five months before the widely covered incident in the United States in May. The incident was under investigation earlier this year, and the family of the Tesla driver are said to have sued ‘Tesla China’ in July, for Autopilot failing to prevent the accident.

A 23-year-old man was driving his father’s Tesla Model S on a highway when the car struck a roadsweeper truck at highway speed, killing the driver. According to a report by Chinese news portal 163.com, the police found no sign that the vehicle applied the brakes before the collision, claiming that Autopilot was engaged at the time of the incident.

“We were saddened to learn of the death of our customer’s son. We take any incident with our vehicles very seriously and immediately reached out to our customer when we learned of the crash,” said Tesla in a statement provided to electric vehicle site Electrek.

“Because of the damage caused by the collision, the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to our servers and we therefore have no way of knowing whether or not Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash. We have tried repeatedly to work with our customer to investigate the cause of the crash, but he has not provided us with any additional information that would allow us to do so.”

The Tesla owner’s manual reportedly has a warning for the particular situations. “Warning: Traffic-Aware Cruise Control can not detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 80 km/h and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object, bicycle, or pedestrian is in front of you instead.

“Always pay attention to the road ahead and stay prepared to take immediate corrective action. Depending on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to avoid a collision can result in serious injury or death. In addition, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control may react to vehicles or objects that either do not exist or are not in the lane of travel, causing Model S to slow down unnecessarily or inappropriately.”

Tesla has just released an update for the Autopilot package which sees radar systems take the lead for autonomous driving, over the camera systems which previously were the vehicles’ primary guides; CEO Elon Musk says the company believes it would have saved the driver in the May incident.