Tesla Says Fatal Autopilot Crash Is Not Their Fault

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Tesla is pinning the fatal crash of one of its autopilot-equipped vehicles on the operator of the car, as the family of the affected mulls over legal options.

“The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility head, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. [Walter] Huang wasn’t paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so,” a Tesla representative told The Wall Street Journal.

Huang died March 23 while driving Tesla’s Model X on a highway near Mountain View, Calif., a city in the tech hub of Silicon Valley. The vehicle reportedly struck a barrier, and then collided with two other cars on the road.

“The firm believes Tesla’s Autopilot feature is defective and likely caused Huang’s death, despite Tesla’s apparent attempt to blame the victim of this terrible tragedy,” the law firm expected to represent Huang’s family said, according to The WSJ.

Huang’s death isn’t the first time Tesla’s semi-autonomous cars have been called into question. Fortune Magazine alleged in July, 2016, that Tesla knew about another fatal accident before the company sold $2 billion in stock, triggering a probe from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The outlet also said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also eventually launched its own investigation.

Eye witness reports for that specific instance said that the man behind the wheel was watching a “Harry Potter” movie, and thus wasn’t abiding by the advised rules to pay attention even when autopilot is in use. (RELATED: Distracted Driving Is A Huge Problem, And Autonomous Cars Could Help)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk hit back against the allegations of faulty technology, calling the allegations “BS.”

The company showed remorse, but also chose, much like in the current situation, to defend its technology.

“This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated,” the company stated in a blog post dated June 30, 2016.

Later, Musk said that with the firm’s then-just released updates, the crash probably wouldn’t have happened. The new and improved version of the Autopilot, which has a refined radar, was upgraded so it could detect “a large metal object across the road” — an ostensibly key component since this vehicle operator died due to a brightly lit sky reflecting off a nearby truck and reportedly obscuring the autopilot technology.

Like that situation, NHTSA is also investigating Huang’s accident.

“We empathize with Mr. Huang’s family, who are understandably facing loss and grief, but the false impression that Autopilot is unsafe will cause harm to others on the road,” Tesla continued, according to The WSJ. “The reason that other families are not on TV is because their loved ones are still alive.”

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