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Prosecutors file first felony charges tied to Tesla Autopilot crashes

The jury is still out on whether Autopilot lives up to its name

Tesla company building
Photo (c) princigalli - Getty Images
Tesla’s Autopilot feature has landed a California driver in a vehicular manslaughter case. While the automaker has been tied to other fatal crashes and is part of a federal investigation related to its Autopilot system, this is the first time Tesla has been tied to a felony charge. ​​

The Associated Press reports that California prosecutors have filed two charges against Kevin George Aziz Riad, the person behind the wheel of a Tesla involved in a fatal Autopilot-related collision. The lawsuit was originally filed in Oct. 2021, but it wasn’t publicly reported until now. 

According to the police report, after exiting a highway in his Tesla Model S, Riad ran a red light and smashed into a Honda Civic at an intersection in Gardena. The collision killed a man and a woman in the other vehicle. 

Riad pleaded not guilty and is free on bail while the case is pending.

History of Autopilot crashes 

The felony charge against Riad isn’t the first tied to an automated driving system. In 2018, the driver of an autonomous Uber driver was charged with negligent homicide after a pedestrian was struck and killed by the vehicle he was serving as the human backup for. That incident led Uber to shut down its self-driving car operations in Arizona

Concerns about the Autopilot system continue to grow, but Tesla has tried to move the tide against the technology the other way. The first thing out of the chute was an update for the system's software so that it was harder for drivers to abuse the option.

The company also went on a campaign to warn against the misuse of Autopilot and Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” system. Officials have consistently stated that the vehicles that have the system cannot drive themselves. They also say it’s imperative that drivers stay vigilant and ready to react if needed.

When Car and Driver put Autopilot to the test late last year, it gave the feature mixed reviews. On the positive side, the researchers said they were impressed with its capability while taking certain highway interchanges, lane changes, and while using on two-lane roads. However, they did find certain hiccups like the car merging onto the highway too late and decelerating too slowly when exiting the highway. 

“With the features the Full Self-Driving package offers today, the system isn't anywhere near something we'd call ‘self-driving’” the test drivers reported. “The system bobbled more than 10 maneuvers and driving situations on our loop, some of which required us to quickly retake control.”

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