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Tesla driver to face manslaughter charge after autopilot car crash killed two


An estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with autopilot controls in the United States alone (Picture: Mercedes-Benz AG / Communicati)

The driver of a Tesla on autopilot which ran a red light, slammed into another car and killed two people is being prosecuted for manslaughter.

This is the first time serious criminal charges were filed in a fatal crash involving a partially automated driver-assist system.

Driver Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, was exiting a Californian highway in his black Tesla Model S in 2019 when he ran a red light and slammed into a Honda Civic.

The two people in the Civic, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez died at the scene while Riad and a woman in the Tesla were hospitalised with non-life-threatening injuries.

Riad, a limousine service driver, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter and is currently on bail while the case is pending.

This isn’t the first time an automated driving system has caused accidents – but they are the first to involve a widely used driver technology.

Authorities in Arizona last year filed a charge of negligent homicide 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 back-up driver on board, hit and killed a pedestrian.

Elon Musk’s Teslas are currently testing a ‘full self-driving’ mode in hundreds of cars on public roads in the US (Picture: Reuters)

An estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with autopilot controls in the US alone.

The criminal charging documents reportedly do not mention autopilot but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which sent investigators to the crash, confirmed last week that autopilot was in use in the Tesla at the time.

NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have been reviewing the widespread misuse of the autopilot function by drivers, whose overconfidence and inattention have been blamed for multiple crashes.

The NTSB said in a 2018 crash in Culver City, California, in which a Tesla hit a fire truck, the design of the autopilot system had ‘permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task’, even though no one was hurt in the crash.

A California man was arrested last May after officers noticed his Tesla moving down a freeway with the man in the back seat – but no one behind the steering wheel.

Tesla recalled nearly 12,000 US vehicles in November due to safety concerns (Picture: ABC 7)

NHTSA has sent investigation teams to 26 crashes involving autopilot controls since 2016, involving at least 11 deaths.

Tesla has since updated its software to try to make it harder for drivers to abuse it. It has also tried to improve the ability of its autopilot to detect emergency vehicles.

Tesla recalled nearly 12,000 US vehicles due to safety concerns in November. While the company has said that drivers must pay attention and be ready to react at any time, the ‘full self-driving’ mode is currently being tested by hundreds of Tesla owners on public roads in the US.

The families of Lopez and Nieves-Lopez have sued Tesla and Riad in separate lawsuits.

They have alleged negligence by Riad and accused Tesla of selling defective vehicles that can accelerate suddenly and lack an effective automatic emergency braking system. A joint trial is scheduled for mid-2023.

The NHTSA has issued a statement saying there is no vehicle on sale that can drive itself. Whether or not a car is using a partially automated system, the agency stressed that ‘every vehicle requires the human driver to be in control at all times’.

It added all state laws hold human drivers responsible for the operation of their vehicles.

Riad’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 23.


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