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U.S. commences investigation after ex-Navy Seal dies in a self-driving Tesla car

According to a witness, a former Navy SEAL, 40 year old Joshua Brown, who served in the US military for 11 years, died at the wheel of his self-driving Tesla car while he watched a Harry Potter movie. The self driving Tesla Model S with its autopilot on crashed into a tractor trailer on a freeway in Williston, Florida, in May.

The driver of the truck, Frank Baressi, said the Tesla driver was ‘playing Harry Potter on the TV screen’ at the time of the crash. However, Tesla denied the claim, saying that movies cannot be played on its touchscreens and police did not mention the driver being distracted by a film in any of their reports.

But, 62 year old Baressi insisted that Brown was watching a movie when their vehicles collided. He said:

‘It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road.’ ‘He went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him,’ he added.

Tesla said its autopilot system failed to detect the truck because its white color was similar to that of the bright sky, adding that the driver didn’t make any attempt to hit the brakes either.

Tesla said:

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.” The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”

Tesla added that:

“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.”

According to reports from the ongoing investigation, Brown had narrowly escaped a similar collision earlier this year, when his car did not notice a white truck turning in on him on the freeway. Tesla confirmed the man’s ‘tragic’ death, but defended its vehicles, saying they were safer than other cars.

In a statement, Tesla said:

‘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’.

The company claimed that had the trailer crashed into the front or the rear of the Model S, the driver would have survived.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Thursday it is opening a preliminary investigation into 25,000 Tesla Motors Model S cars after Brown’s death.


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Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

Twitter: @syd_field