A Tesla driver has apparently become the first person in the United States to be charged with manslaughter in vehicles for a fatal accident in which the vehicle’s autopilot mode was activated.
According to police, the driver drove off a highway in his Tesla Model S, drove past a red light and drove into a Honda Civic at an intersection in Gardena, Los Angeles County, in late 2019. A man and woman in the other car were killed. The Tesla driver and a passenger survived and were taken to the hospital.
Prosecutors in California charged Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, in October last year, though details of the case are only just emerging, according to the AP on Tuesday. The riad, a limousine service driver, faces two counts of manslaughter in vehicles and is free on bail after pleading not guilty.
The charges of crimes, we are told, mark the first time that a Tesla driver has been prosecuted in America for a fatal car accident in which the autopilot was involved. Autopilot is Tesla’s super-cruise control; it is not a completely autonomous system and only provides assistance to the driver. You need to keep your hands on the steering wheel and be able to take over at any time.
In a similar case, Arizona prosecutors charged Rafaela Vasquez with negligent homicide in 2020 after she hit and killed a pedestrian walking a bicycle across the road while testing Uber’s self-driving car software. The trial against Vasquez has been delayed several times and is still pending, according to the Phoenix New Times.
Texas police officers sued Tesla in 2021, accusing the automaker of installing defective safety features in its autopilot software after a Model X driver smashed into the back of two parked police cars. However, Riyadh’s case may show that people can also be held criminally liable for accidents involving vehicles under semi-autonomous control.
The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) confirmed that the Riad had been driving in autopilot mode at the time of the accident. Tesla has faced several investigations with NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board for all sorts of issues ranging from autopilot crashes to worn memory chips.
Tesla has repeatedly warned its drivers to keep their hands on the wheels at all times while driving with Autopilot mode activated and its so-called Full Self-Driving mode. ®