US experts are planning to examine 25,000 cars across the country that are equipped with automated driving systems.
It comes after a driver of one of the vehicles was killed when it was in autopilot mode.
Federal safety regulator the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it is opening a preliminary inquiry into 25,000 Tesla Motors 2015 Model S cars with automated systems.
The NHTSA “calls for an examination of the design and performance of any driving aids in use at the time of the crash.”
The NHTSA says:
- The crash happened on May 7 in Williston, Florida
- The 2015 Model S was being driven in Autopilot mode
- A tractor-trailer reportedly made a left turn in front of the Tesla at a junction
- The driver of the Tesla vehicle died as a result of the impact
It is the first fatality known to involve a Model S operating on Autopilot.
It comes as Tesla and other car makers are gearing up to offer systems over the next few years allowing vehicles to pilot themselves.
Will there be a recall?
It is not clear yet.
The investigation is the first step.
The NHTSA could seek to order a recall if it finds the vehicles are unsafe.
What have Tesla said?
- Autopilot launched last October
- Described as in “beta” (development) mode by chairman Elon Musk
The luxury electric car maker says:
- This is the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles of travel where Autopilot was activated.
- “Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly-lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”
- “The high ride-height of the trailer, combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact, caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting on the windshield (windscreen) of the Model S.”
- “Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically-significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.”
The safety debate
There is debate within the motor industry and legal profession over the safety of systems that take partial control of steering and braking.
Tesla updated its Autopilot driving system in Model S sedans, putting new limits on its hands-free operation.
The function has been restricted on residential roads or roads without a central divider.
Tesla has been praised for innovation but also criticised for launching the Autopilot system too early.