A Tesla owner is facing the first felony charges filed against someone using a partially automated driving system in the US, according to AP. The defendant, Kevin George Aziz Riad, was driving a Model S when he ran a red light and crashed into a Honda Civic at a California intersection in 2019. It ended up killing the Civic’s two passengers, while Riad and his companion sustained non-life threatening injuries. California prosecutors filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against Riad in October last year.
The court documents reportedly didn’t mention anything about Autopilot. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has been investigating the incident over the past couple of years, recently confirmed that it was switched on at the time of the crash. The NHTSA formally opened a probe into Tesla’s driver assistance system in August last year following a string of 11 crashes involving parked first responder vehicles that killed 17 people. It’s also investigating other types of crashes with Tesla vehicles, including one complaint blaming the beta version of the company’s Full Self Driving technology for a collision in California.
As AP notes, Riad is the first to face charges involving a widely used driver assistance technology, but he’s not the very first person using an automated driving system to be charged in the US. In 2020, an Uber backup driver was charged with negligent homicide after the company’s autonomous test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. According to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Uber’s technology detected the victim more than five seconds before the crash but wasn’t able to identify her as a pedestrian. The driver could have avoided the crash if she had been paying attention.
The NHTSA told AP in a statement that “every vehicle requires the human driver to be in control at all times” even if it has a partially automated system. On its Autopilot page, Tesla says that Autopilot is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”