Will Fatal Tesla Crash Kill the Driverless Car Craze?

A combination of "extremely rare circumstances" last month is believed to have led to the first known fatal crash linked to self-driving car technology, according to a statement released yesterday by Tesla Motors. With an investigation now under way by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the possible impact on the fast-developing autonomous vehicle industry remains to be seen.

Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Ohio was killed May 7 near Williston, Florida, when his 2015 Tesla Model S (similar to the Model S pictured above) drove under an 18-wheel semi-trailer truck that had passed in front of him across a divided highway.

Although the Tesla Autopilot feature was engaged on Brown's car, the technology apparently did not notice the white side of the truck against the brightly lit sky, according to a Tesla blog post published yesterday.

The crash should give federal regulators a reason to slow down their efforts to develop new guidelines for self-driving cars, the advocacy organization Consumer Watchdog said in a statement yesterday. The group is asking the NHTSA to launch a public rule-making process on autonomous vehicles, as well as set requirements that such cars must always have steering wheels and pedals to allow human drivers to take over if needed.

'Technology Is in Doubt'

Tesla's statement yesterday regarding the fatal crash noted that it was the first "in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated." The statement added that Tesla disables the Autopilot feature "by default and requires explicit acknowledgment that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled."

John Simpson, the director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, told us today that Tesla is trying to "have it both ways" by promoting the use of self-driving technology and then stating that the feature is...

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