A man was killed in China when his Tesla Model S, which reportedly had its Autopilot driver-assist function engaged, smashed into a stationary vehicle in the left lane of a major highway. Though the crash occurred in January, reports of the incident are only surfacing now.
A 23-year-old man was killed on January 20th while behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S traveling on a highway near Hong Kong when the electric car drove itself into a street-cleaning truck that was stopped on the side of the roadway's left lane, Electrek reports. The man had borrowed the car from his father. Police reportedly found no signs that the car's brakes were used before the impact, and reports show the car was using its semi-autonomous Autopilot driver-assist function. If the car was indeed using Autopilot, this would be the first crash to kill someone while the car's semi-autonomous driving function was active, pre-dating the crash that killed Joshua Brown in June.
The intense crash was captured on dashcam footage. As you can see in the short GIF provided by Electrek, and in this YouTube video starting at the 04:15 mark, the car does not appear to slow down before impacting the street-cleaner.
Because of the severe damage to the car, Tesla has not yet been able to confirm whether Autopilot was engaged in this incident—but from the looks of that clip, it seems plausible that the car was driving itself. Previously, The Drive reported on two similar Autopilot incidents, both involving a Tesla crashing into a stopped car in the left lane of a major highway. This incident from January appears much more severe, likely because of the speed the car appears to be carrying.
As noted by Electrek, Tesla's owners manual specifically warns drivers that Autopilot often has trouble in these circumstances:
“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 50 mph (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.”
Following the incident, the driver's family reportedly sued Tesla China in Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court. The family believes the automaker should take responsibility for the death because Autopilot was allegedly unable to recognize the stopped vehicle.
When The Drive contacted Tesla for a statement on this incident, a spokesperson responded with the following:
"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. 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."