Driver in Fatal Tesla Autopilot Accident Got Several Warnings Before Crash

Newly released documents tell us more about what happened in this tragic accident.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Former Navy SEAL and electric car enthusiast Joshua Brown was killed in an accident on May 7, 2016, when his Tesla Model S drove into the side of a tractor-trailer while using the semi-autonomous Autopilot driving function. Since then, an investigation into exactly what happened and whether or not Autopilot was at fault has been ongoing. According to Reuters, the National Transportation Safety Board released a 500-page document that sheds some light on this incident.

Tesla’s Autopilot is basically a set of safety technologies working together to deliver a semi-autonomous driving experience. It has things like adaptive cruise control and emergency braking communicating with each other to keep the driving experience safe and pleasurable with minimal input from the driver.

Now, the keyword there is “minimal” input—it does not mean the same thing as no input. A caveat to Autopilot is that the driver doesn’t get to kick back and play Candy Crush when on. The software requires the driver to keep hands on the wheel. According to the new report, Autopilot gave Brown seven separate visual warnings saying “Hands Required Not Detected” and six different audible chimes reminding him to pay attention to the road. Whenever something like this happens, Tesla likes to remind us that Autopilot “does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.”

In the collision in question, a white trailer blended in with the sky which is why it wasn’t detected by Autopilot. It saw the white trailer and thought it was open space. Brown did not manually apply the brakes either with his last input to the car being setting the cruise control to 74 mile per hour in a 65 zone. That was less than two minutes before the crash.

As for the truck driver, he was charged with a right of way traffic violation by the Florida Highway Patrol and is expected to appear in a court hearing Wednesday.

As of this writing, Tesla has declined to comment on the new report. We do know that Jack Landskroner, the Brown family lawyer, told Reuters that the previous rumor that Brown was watching a movie at the time of the accident is “unequivocally false.” The Brown family has not taken legal action against Tesla. Whether or not this new document will change the family’s mind on that remains to be seen.