Tesla asked to brief US Senate committee on fatal car crash

The Autopilot driver-assistance feature was turned on at the time of the crash

Tesla Motors has been asked by a U.S. Senate Committee to brief it on the circumstances leading to a fatal accident that killed the driver of a Tesla Model S, while the vehicle’s Autopilot driver-assistance software was turned on.

The request by the committee on Thursday comes on the same day that Consumer Reports, a product-testing and rating nonprofit, called on Tesla to disable hands-free operation in its cars until it can be made safer. Though advanced active safety technology in vehicles could eventually make roads safer, today "we're deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology,” said Laura MacCleery, vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for the organization, in a statement.

The automaker holds that it disables Autopilot by default and “requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled,” with warnings to drivers that they should keep their hands on the wheel at all times and be ready to take over. But Consumer Reports said that Tesla’s messages "create potential for driver confusion."

Tesla is already under investigation about the accident by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and reportedly by the Securities and Exchange Commission, for a possible breach of rules relating to disclosures to investors.

In a letter to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Senator John Thune, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has said that he is particularly interested in the company’s efforts to ensure that Autopilot technology “was deployed safely in this instance.” He said he was also interested in knowing about Tesla’s work in the area of educating customers on the use, benefits and limitations of the technology.

Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, asked the automaker to brief the committee by July 29.

Tesla said end June that it had learned that NHTSA had opened a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot in the impact of a Model S car with a tractor trailer. The accident reportedly happened on May 7 in Florida, killing the driver Joshua Brown. The impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.

“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 in a blog post.

While investigations are still ongoing, questions remain as to whether the technology worked as it was intended to, and the accident and fatality of the driver, a former Navy SEAL, could have been avoided, according to Thune.

Tesla could not be immediately reached for comment on Thune’s letter.

The accident is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated, in contrast to a fatality every 94 million miles among all vehicles in the U.S., according to Tesla.

On Thursday, Musk tweeted that another crash involving a Tesla in Pennsylvania would not have happened if Autopilot had been turned on. "Onboard vehicle logs show Autopilot was turned off in Pennsylvania crash. Moreover, crash would not have occurred if it was on," Musk wrote.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?