I don’t wish to sound insensitive as a life was lost, but the driver of the tractor-trailer that killed a motorist in early May while his Model S’ autopilot was engaged, is claiming that the driver was watching a Harry Potter movie. While this won’t stop the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) from investigating, if it turns out to be true, Tesla must surely feel better.
Tesla’s statement yesterday and new information
In response to being informed by the NHTSA that an investigation was underway Wednesday , Tesla wrote in a blog post yesterday:
“We learned yesterday evening that NHTSA is opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during a recent fatal crash that occurred in a Model S. This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.”
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Now, it’s coming to light that Joshua D. Brown of Canton, Ohio, the 40-year-old owner of a technology company, who was killed in Williston, Florida was watching a “Harry Potter” film according to the driver of the vehicle that struck Brown’s Tesla Model S.
The driver was Frank Baressi, 62, and the driver of the truck that struck him, [The] Okemah Express, seems to know his kids movies saying Brown was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” adding that the car “snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road” after passing beneath his rig.
This from an interview with the AP who also provided a video of that discussion. The movie “was still playing when he died,” Baressi told The Associated Press from his home in Palm Harbor, Florida.
No movie playing in police report
Tesla quickly pointed out that you can’t watch films on the Model S’ screen while the autopilot is engaged. It’s also coming to light that Brown had posted numerous videos of he and his Tesla he called “Tessy” on YouTube with the autopilot engaged, another obviously no-no from law enforcement and Tesla’s points of view.
Brown published a video of an incident where the autopilot “saved him” online. “Hands down the best car I have ever owned and use it to its full extent,” Brown wrote.
Tesla further expressed their deep regret for the incident saying [Brown was] a friend to Tesla and the broader EV (electric vehicle) community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission. Adding, “Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert.”
While certainly a tragedy, it’s looking more and more like it was very avoidable and possibly reckless behavior. However, news like this will have an effect on Tesla. If not just in its stock price but in the public’s perception of self-driving vehicles.
Human error is responsible for roughly 95% of all accidental deaths and Tesla along with a host of other companies hope to eliminate this error through their engineer of self-driving vehicles.