New reports are coming out of China today claiming that the first fatality in a Tesla Model S on Autopilot was not the widely-covered crash in Florida in May 2016 that resulted in the death of Joshua Brown, but actually an accident in China in January 2016.
The accident was under investigation for the first half of the year, but the family of the victim reportedly sued ‘Tesla China’ back in July and now details of the crash are coming to light in the Chinese media.
A video of the accident was captured by the dashcam of the Tesla Model S driver, a 23-year man borrowing his dad’s car according to a report (Chinese). He was driving on the highway reportedly in the Hong Kong and Macao jurisdiction when his car hit a streetsweeper truck on the side of the road at highway speed, killing the driver.
The police found no sign that the vehicle applied the brakes before hitting the truck and the reports claims that the Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident.
The dashcam footage doesn’t seem to show the vehicle slowing down before hitting the truck:
The family of the driver reportedly sued Tesla in Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court, citing that the automaker should take responsibility for the Autopilot failing to prevent the accident.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk highlighted, as recently as last Sunday, the fact that there was only one known fatality in a Tesla on Autopilot after over ~200 million miles driven, referring to the accident in Florida.
We reached out to Tesla for a comment on this new report and the company says that they are not able to access the vehicle’s logs and therefore, they can’t confirm if Autopilot was engaged:
We were saddened to learn of the death of our customer’s son. We take any incident with our vehicles very seriously and immediately reached out to our customer when we learned of the crash. Because of the damage caused by the collision, the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to our servers and we therefore have no way of knowing whether or not Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash. We have tried repeatedly to work with our customer to investigate the cause of the crash, but he has not provided us with any additional information that would allow us to do so.
This new fatal accident emerging today is reminiscent of similar, though fortunately not fatal, accidents on Autopilot with a vehicle on the left side of the road.
We reported on a Tesla Model S driver in Switzerland publishing a video of his car crashing into a van after the vehicle Tesla’s Autopilot was following swerve halfway off his lane to pass a van on the side of the road. This incident is similar to this fatal accident in nature but with obviously less dire consequences.
Then last month, a similar accident happened on the highway in China. The accident was also caught on camera. The driver in this particular accident claimed that Tesla employees told him the car was “self-driving”. Not long after the accident, Tesla clarified some of the language relating to Autopilot on its Chinese website.
In previous accidents, Tesla pointed to the company’s policy to ask drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, there’s a visual alert to do so when activating the Autopilot, and to always monitor the vehicle and the road when on Autopilot. It’s the driver’s responsibility to prevent accidents when using Autopilot’s features, even if some of those features are also to prevent accidents, like Automatic Emergency Braking and Forward Collision warning, which both seem to have failed to activate during this accident.
Tesla’s owner manual has a warning especially for those kinds of situations:
“Warning: Traffic-Aware Cruise Control can not detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 50 mph (80 km/h) and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object, bicycle, or pedestrian is in front of you instead. Always pay attention to the road ahead and stay prepared to take immediate corrective action. Depending on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to avoid a collision can result in serious injury or death. In addition, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control may react to vehicles or objects that either do not exist or are not in the lane of travel, causing Model S to slow down unnecessarily or inappropriately.”
Earlier this this week, Tesla announced a new radar processing technology that should greatly improve the Autopilot’s automatic emergency braking feature.
Here are a few pictures of the aftermath of the crash in China reported today: