A former Navy Seal operator has been identified as the first person to have died while using the Model S autonomous car from Tesla. According to reports, the vehicle was in autopilot mode when it crashed, which then led to the death of the driver.
The incident occurred in May of this year but the investigation carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was finalized earlier this week, according to NY Daily News.
According to the U.S. agency, the victim, named Joshua Brown, was driving at a divided highway in Ohio. As his Model S, which was in autopilot mode, made a left turn at an intersection, a truck crossed in front of the vehicle. Brown's car, however, was not able to apply the brakes which then caused it to crash into the tractor trailer of the truck windshield-first. Brown then died due to the injuries he sustained in the accident.
The incident certainly highlights the safety of autonomous cars and their capability of handling a variety of traffic-related situations on public roads. However, Tesla maintained that its cars' autopilot feature mainly functions to assist drivers and should not be considered as a total replacement of a human operator especially since it is still in its beta stages.
The company stressed that even when in autopilot mode, drivers should still place their hands on the steering wheel in order to maintain control over the vehicle at all times.
"Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert," the company stated in a blog post. "Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving."
But, despite the company's reasoning, Tesla referred to the incident as a tragic loss and extended its condolences to Brown's family.
"The customer who died in this crash had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss," the company said. "He was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology who believed in Tesla's mission."
"We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends," Tesla added.