Previous Autopilot Crashes
This is not the first, but is hopefully the last Tesla Autopilot crash. In the fourth quarter of last year,
“[Tesla] registered one accident for every 3.07 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.10 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.64 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 479,000 miles”
As they stated above, the rate at which Autopilot crashes happen per mile is much lower than the standard rate. What’s different though is 90% of all crashes are attributed to human error, but what happens when it’s not a human driver? Who’s to blame? In the worst case scenarios there have been deaths. Two of those crashes in 2019 were fatal, making a total of 5 fatal accidents with drivers using Autopilot. A complete list of Tesla fatalities can be found here.
The First Autopilot Death: Gao Yaning 2016
January 20th 2016, a 23-year-old Gao Yaning was driving a Tesla Model S in Hebei China. The electric vehicle was using Autopilot and ran into the back of a street sweeping truck. This first death was incredibly controversial as Tesla had only rolled out the Autopilot system a year prior. The family of Gao has taken legal action against Tesla, and the lawsuit is still being worked out today.
Joshua Brown, Williston, Florida 2016
Only a few months after the first, the second Autopilot fatality happened in Williston Florida. In May of 2016 Joshua Brown was driving his Model S that collided with a truck. What was reportedly different with this crash than the first was the amount of information regarding the drivers actions previous to his death. According to the report by the NTSB (The National Transportation Safety Board) Brown only had his hands on the wheel for 25 seconds throughout a 37-minute period wherein the car required his hands on the wheel.
Because Brown didn’t have his hands on the wheel when the car suggested he should, Tesla’s representatives abdicated responsibility for the crash and his subsequent death. In the months following his death Tesla improved the Autopilot system by adding limitations on hands off driving and a few other features that theoretically would have prevented the fatality.
Walter Hwang, Mountain View, California 2018
Another high-profile Autopilot fatality was in March of 2018 when Walter Hwang crashed into a highway barrier, was then hit by two other vehicles which caused the lithium battery to catch on fire. Hwang had previously mentioned to his wife that the car’s Autopilot system had been faulty at the same exact location where he crashed. Reports from his phone showed that he had been playing video games on his phone that drive where he crashed. Hwang was a software engineer at Apple, his family sued Tesla after the crash claiming that the Autopilot system had malfunctioned.
Jeremy Banner, Delray Beach, Florida 2019
Another incident where Tesla’s Autopilot system failed to recognize a large slow moving object obstructing the path of the electric vehicle. On Banner’s morning commute, after putting the car into Autopilot mode, he crashed going 68mph into a slow moving white semi truck crossing a four-lane highway. The top of Banner’s Tesla was sheared off by the truck and Banner was instantly killed.
Samantha Jensen Osceola, Florida 2019
A 29-year-old Samantha Jensen was driving her Tesla Model 3, and apparently was using the Tesla’s lane assist mode when she veered into oncoming traffic and was killed.
Non Fatal Crashes
There have been many more crashes using Autopilot that were non fatal that Tesla have been able to study and talk with drivers about what happened and how those issues can be resolved in the future. The underlying theme is detection and braking, most often something obstructs the Tesla’s path but is not sensed by the Autopilot system.