As car companies continue investing in autopilot technology, the feature’s safety was now been thrown into question as the first fatality associated with the feature was recorded back in May. However, as more details emerge about the fatal crash, officials are now investigating whether a certain boy wizard might have contributed to the tragic accident.
Joshua D. Brown, 40, was killed in Florida after his Tesla Model S failed to differentiate the broad, white side of a turning big-rig from the sunny sky whilst in autopilot. As such, the system did not apply brakes to the vehicle, and Brown failed to take control of his car prior to the crash. Brown, who was an avid supporter of his vehicle’s autopilot feature, would often post videos of himself driving his Tesla to showcase its safety feature. In one such video, Brown even captures the moment when his Tesla swerves to avoid a utility truck who’d cut him off on the interstate.
While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has confirmed that the autopilot feature was engaged during Brown’s fatal crash, witnesses are now claiming more contributed to the accident than just faulty software. Brown, who had a history of speeding, was said to have been driving very fast when the crash happened. The big-rig’s driver, Frank Baressi, told The Associated Press that, “He went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.” And, even more shockingly, Baressi said he'd heard Brown playing Harry Potter in the car though he couldn’t see the film himself.
So far, the Florida Highway Patrol has acknowledged they found a portable DVD player in Brown’s vehicle following the crash, but they cannot say whether it was being used at the time of the accident. However, Baressi told AP, “It [the film] was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road.” Tesla Motors Inc. has since released a statement saying it’s impossible to watch movies on its Model S touch screen.
The timing of this horrific crash has created major challenges for car companies to address as self-driving technology continues gaining popularity. In fact, guidelines for autopilot technology are expected to be released later this month as the software promises to transform how people drive. Most importantly, proponents stress that autopilot features can remove human error from driving which reportedly causes 94% of current traffic fatalities.
Though grieving, Brown's family hopes his accident will provide information for both Tesla and the government to prevent autopilot fatalities in the future.