A California Tesla (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc Report driver who was using the electric-vehicle maker's autopilot system is facing felony charges after the car crashed into another car and killed two people, media reports say.
The Associated Press reported that the case, filed by Los Angeles prosecutors, appears to be the first time a driver is facing felony charges for a fatal crash while using a widely available automated driving system.
The driver of the Tesla Model S, Kevin George Aziz Riad, a 27-year-old limousine-service driver, has pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Tesla, the Austin electric-vehicle producer, tells its drivers that when they use autopilot and a more sophisticated full-self-driving function, they must keep their hands on the wheel and maintain attention and control of their cars.
The misuse of autopilot, which can control steering, speed and braking, has occurred on a number of occasions and is the subject of investigations by federal agencies.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says no car currently on the road can drive itself. AP and the Times reported that Nhtsa is looking into what went wrong in the California case.
On Dec. 29, AP reported, a Tesla moving at high speed left a freeway, ran a red light and hit a Honda Civic, killing two people in the Honda.
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The charging documents don't mention autopilot, but Nhtsa confirmed that the system was in use in the Tesla, AP reported.
This isn't the first criminal case filed in an autonomous-vehicle situation. AP reported that in 2020 in Arizona, authorities filed negligent-homicide charges against a driver Uber (UBER) - Get Uber Technologies, Inc. Report had hired to help test a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads. That Uber vehicle, an SUV with the human backup driver on board, struck and killed a pedestrian, AP reported.
But the Tesla system is widely integrated into the company's cars. It is installed in some 765,000 Tesla cars in the U.S. alone, built from 2014 through 2021.
Nhtsa and the National Transportation Safety Board have been reviewing the misuse of autopilot by drivers. Driver overconfidence and inattention have been blamed for multiple crashes, including fatal ones.
The company has said that autopilot and a more sophisticated full-self-driving system cannot drive themselves and that drivers must pay attention and be ready to react at anytime. Full-self-driving is being tested by hundreds of Tesla owners on public roads in the U.S.
"Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous," says the company on its website.
The families of the two people who were killed in the crash have sued both Tesla and the driver, the news service and the Times reported.
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