The rapidly developing technology of self-driving cars holds the promise of an enormously positive impact on public safety, with many experts claiming that over 90 percent of car accident fatalities could be eliminated if autonomous vehicles become widespread. However, that claim was called into question recently, when it was revealed that the driver of a Tesla Model S electric sedan died in an accident in Florida May 7, while the vehicle was in its autonomous operating mode.
Joshua Brown, 40, was killed in Williston, Florida, when his car collided with a tractor-trailer that was turning left in front of him. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that the Tesla was in self-driving mode, and preliminary information indicated that neither the driver nor the self-driving system applied the brakes. Tesla said in a news release that the autopilot system did not detect the white side of the truck against the bright sky.
The NHTSA has opened an investigation into the accident, but the agency cautioned that the initiation of the inquiry did not necessarily mean that there was a defect in the vehicle. Mark Rosekind, the head of the agency, said recently that self-driving cars need to be at least twice as safe as human drivers.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, is often hailed as a visionary, but he was criticized for Tesla’s response to the accident. The company said that the death was the first in 130 million miles, and was a “statistical inevitability.” Musk pointed out that 1.3 million people die worldwide in traffic accidents each year.