Autopilot: a driver charged with manslaughter in the United States

Autopilot: a driver charged with manslaughter in the United States


A Tesla owner caused the death of two people and will therefore soon be tried in California. The man ran a red light while Autopilot was on and then crashed into another vehicle. This is the first time an individual has been criminally charged in the United States in a case involving Autopilot.

A first criminal charge

Recently, Tesla published a report providing details on the safety of its vehicles. According to the data in this document, Tesla vehicles with the Autopilot function are on average nine times less often involved in accidents. A large proportion of accidents are ultimately human-caused. One case in particular perfectly illustrates this human responsibility, as the Associated Press indicates in an article of January 19, 2022.

In California, prosecutors recently brought two criminal charges against the owner of a Tesla Model S. This is a first in the United States for a criminal court. The driver is currently on bail pending trial.

The accident happened on December 29, 2019 in Gardena, a suburb of Los Angeles. The driver exited a highway and ran a red light before crashing into a classic vehicle. Result: two people died. It should be noted that the document in which the criminal charges appear makes no mention of Autopilot. On the other hand, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted an investigation confirming that during the accident, the driver assistance system was indeed active.

A partially autonomous system

For the NHTSA, this case represents a new opportunity to explain a fact that Elon Musk and Tesla recall quite regularly. Currently, no motor vehicle on the market allows fully autonomous driving. Indeed, the Autopilot is a partially autonomous SAE level 2 system. In other words, the driver must keep his hands on the wheel and keep his full attention on the road even when using it.

Very often, Tesla receives criticism about the weakness of the driver monitoring system present in its vehicles. However, the firm has made commitments to improve its device with the help of an interior camera, at the level of the rear view mirror. On the other hand, there was never any question of going further with, for example, the installation of infrared eye tracking.