Tesla shares slump as auto-pilot fatality flags concerns about autonomous driving | RenewEconomy

Tesla shares slump as auto-pilot fatality flags concerns about autonomous driving

Although statistically expected, the first auto-pilot fatality will bring into question the safety of the new technology.


The first-known autopilot death has occurred in Florida. And it has happened to the driver of a Tesla Model S, whose electric vehicle apparently failed to identify a large, white trailer crossing the highway while in self-drive mode and ploughed into and under the vehicle.


The accident, which apparently occurred in early May, was revealed by Tesla on its blog on Thursday in the US, and sparked an immediate fall in its share price, and the inevitable questions about whether self-driving technology is really a good thing.

The victim, a tech and Tesla enthusiast named Joshua Brown, had posted videos of his trips using autopilot mode on his Model S. This is one of his videos.

In its blog, Tesla noted that the incident will now be investigated by federal safety authorities. It made the point that it was the first fatal accident in 130 million miles. Other vehicles, it ventured, recorded a fatility ever 90 million miles.

“What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S,” Tesla wrote in its blog. “Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”

Tesla said it was “important” to note that Tesla disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is a new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.

“When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it.”

“Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.”

Tesla shares on Thursday fell 2.5 per cent on the NASDAQ as news broke of NHTSA’s investigation of the fatal crash.


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  1. Bob Fearn 4 years ago

    A question for you. What is the world’s safest transportation method?

    • Lightfoot 4 years ago

      Shanks pony!

      • Bob Fearn 4 years ago

        Nope, no one has it right yet.
        A hint, This transports millions of people a day. You have all travelled this way. It is the safest by far.

        • Lightfoot 4 years ago

          Shanks Pony stats: 5 billion+ per day. Fatalities: Nil.

          • Bob Fearn 4 years ago

            Actually the Shanks Pony is quite dangerous in that people fall over and that can be fatal. Current rate for seniors in the US is 56 deaths per 100,000 per year.
            The safest method is the elevator which is so safe that few people even think of it a a method of transportation.
            I mentioned this because we can make things safe. There are now over 20 major North American airlines that have not had a fatality for over 40 years.
            Because drivers are in charge of an individual car and they think they are safe we have a amazingly dangerous way of getting around. Tesla and others are on the right track but it is still a good idea to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road

    • Brunel 4 years ago

      High speed rail.

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      Depends who you ask, but let’s say rail, bus, plane almost share the top 3 spots.

    • Peter Thomson 4 years ago

      Aeroplane. US stats for fatalities by billion passenger miles:
      Air travel: 0.07
      Bus travel: 0.11
      Subway: 0.24
      Train: 0.43
      Ferry: 3.17
      Car: 7.28

  2. john 4 years ago

    The problem is that self drive is only an aid not autonomous driving mode.
    To implement autonomous driving all the shared information has to be available.
    That includes each and every vehicle having an emitter receiver system in place that is activated, each vehicle has to have visual and scanning laser as well as the road system having intelligent communication systems in place.
    Will this happen yes.
    Costly no.
    As to the aspects of this event it would appear the car driver was not attentive and the truck driver has to bear the major responsibility for taking the life of a decent human being.

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      The tractor would not have had any of your suggested tech… 🙁

      • john 4 years ago

        On the contrary most large transport companies have systems in place where over the air monitoring of all aspects of the units is utilized.
        The actual power output of the motor can and is changed as required the speed at which it can be driven can be changed on the go.
        So the technology is more likely to be available already in these units than consumer vehicles.
        Just like Tesla can rebuild the history of use of the car these transport companies have immediate information as well as stored history of the use of their units.

  3. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    I tried to imagine the scenario with driving on the right side of the road. Hands on steering is not all the Tesla needed. It seems you also need emergency brake. Autonomous driving needs to ‘throw out the anchor’ and lock wheels like me trying to avoid a roo.Was the Tesla relying on visual cues only ? Was the turning truck obscured visually or radarilly by a truck stopped in the lane on the left ?All vehicles probably should have an interactive feature to alert other autonomous systems when traversing points of conflict like intersections. As if to say ‘ I am passing in this direction over this cross street … others may need to stop’.Then the information would have to be forgotten after 5 minutes to avoid big brother tracking you.

  4. MaxG 4 years ago

    All this song and dance… need someone to blame?! There is risk in everything we do. Also, not much is known; e.g. whether the driver — if driving himself — would have prevented the accident. If not, why expect the machine to succeed?

  5. trackdaze 4 years ago

    A vehicle with some form of autonomous tech is likely to lull those into a false sense of security, reduce their level of alertness and reaction times.

  6. john 4 years ago

    The sad aspect of this whole episode is that the guidance system is not auto-pilot it is just a guidance system which means the driver has be vigilant at all times.

  7. MaxG 4 years ago

    Also, the headline is propaganda — Tesla has no auto-pilot! Driver-assist is something different.

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