You can’t blame transistors and 5G on this one, not anymore. California prosecutors have filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against the driver of a Tesla on Autopilot that ran a red light, slammed into another car and killed two people in 2019. The defendant appears to be the first person to be criminally charged in the United States for a fatal crash involving a motorist who was using a partially automated driving system.
As reported by Associated Press, the misuse of Autopilot, which can control steering, speed and braking, has occurred on numerous occasions and is the subject of investigations by two federal agencies. The filing of charges in the California crash could serve notice to drivers who use systems like Autopilot that they cannot rely on them to control vehicles.
The criminal charges aren’t the first involving an automated driving system, but they are the first to involve a widely used driver technology. Authorities in Arizona filed a charge of negligent homicide in 2020 against a driver Uber had hired to take part in the testing of a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads. The Uber vehicle, an SUV with the human backup driver on board, struck and killed a pedestrian.
By contrast, Autopilot and other driver-assist systems are widely used on roads across the world. An estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with it in the United States alone.