A Tesla driver has been charged with vehicular manslaughter after they ran a red light while the vehicle was in Autopilot mode and t-boned another car, killing two people.
Los Angeles County prosecutors filed charges against the 27-year-old driver, Kevin Riad Aziz, back in October, however the charges were only brought to light this week, according to the Associated Press. Aziz has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently free on bail.
Riad was driving his Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode on December 29th, 2019 when the vehicle left the freeway, ran a red light and t-boned a Honda Civic that was passing through the intersection. Both occupants of the Honda Civic, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez, died at the scene of the accident. Riad and his female passenger in the Tesla were transported to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
A law professor that spoke to AP for its article on the matter said that to his knowledge, this is the first time a driver has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in a crash where a semi-automated driver assistance system was in use. While the charges filed against Riad do not mention Autopilot by name, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed previously the system was being used at the time of the crash.
This is the first time criminal charges have been filed against someone for a crash that occurred while using Autopilot, however it’s not the first time a crash involving the system has been looked at by the feds. According to the AP, NHTSA has sent investigation teams to 26 crashes involving the Tesla Autopilot system since 2016, of which 11 included fatalities.
While the name of Autopilot may seem to suggest it enables the vehicle to drive itself, the system is nothing more than a semi-autonomous driving assistant similar to General Motors’ own Super Cruise technology. A recent Consumer Reports study found the driver monitoring system found in Autopilot-equipped Tesla vehicles could be easily defeated, whereas Super Cruise could not be and would automatically bring the vehicle to a stop if it determined the driver was not paying full attention.
A preliminary hearing for Riad is scheduled for February 23rd, at which point more details on this case may come to light.