Tesla Autopilot not at fault in Florida accident, feds find

The driver of a Tesla sedan was killed when the car slammed into a truck

Tesla's Autopilot system has been found not guilty in a Florida crash that killed the car's driver when it slammed into a semi-trailer truck on May 7, 2016.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued its findings on the accident Thursday and said the driver was at fault in the accident because he had ignored Tesla's warnings that the driver must pay attention at all times that the car is in the Autopilot mode.

NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) noted that Tesla has since upgraded the Autopilot system with a "strike-out" feature that disables Autopilot if the driver does not respond to visual instrument panel cues.

Auto industry executives who have been working to speed adoption of self-driving systems were relieved by the finding.

"Sigh of relief"

It was the first investigation into a fatal accident involving a self-driving system and a finding that Autopilot was at fault could have been a huge setback to the fast-developing autonomous vehicle movement. 

"The auto industry just let out a giant sigh of relief,” said Dave Sullivan, an analyst at consultancy AutoPacific Inc., in a Bloomberg story cited by Automotive News. “This could have started a snowball effect of letting automakers and suppliers become liable for human error.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the finding "very positive" and noted that the company's vehicle crash rate dropped by 38 percent after it installed its auto-steer system

Others weren't so positive. Joan Claybrook, auto safety advocate and former NHTSA administrator, said the fact that Autopilot couldn't distinguish between a white truck and the sky "would seem to be a defect."

But the NHTSA finding said, in effect, that it was the driver's responsibility to see the truck.

"The Autopilot system is an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) that requires the continual and full attention of the driver to monitor the traffic environment and be prepared to take action to avoid crashes," the NHTSA report said.

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