Tesla driver charged with manslaughter after Autopilot crash

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A Tesla driver has seemingly become the first person in the US to be charged with vehicular manslaughter for a deadly crash in which the vehicle’s Autopilot mode was engaged.

According to the cops, the driver exited a highway in his Tesla Model S, ran a red light, and smashed into a Honda Civic at an intersection in Gardena, Los Angeles County, in late 2019. A man and woman in the second car were killed. The Tesla driver and a passenger survived and were taken to 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 AP on Tuesday. Riad, a limousine service driver, is facing two counts of vehicular manslaughter, and is free on bail after pleading not guilty.

The felony charges, we’re told, mark the first time a Tesla driver has been criminally prosecuted in America for a deadly car crash in which Autopilot was engaged. Autopilot is Tesla’s super-cruise-control; it’s not a fully autonomous system and only provides assistance to the driver. You’re supposed to keep your hands on the wheel and be able to take over at any time.

In a similar case, prosecutors in Arizona charged Rafaela Vasquez with negligent homicide in 2020 after she struck and killed a pedestrian walking a bike across the road while testing Uber’s self-driving car software. Vasquez’s trial has been delayed multiple times and is still pending, according to the Phoenix New Times.

Police officers in Texas sued Tesla in 2021, accusing the automaker of deploying defective safety features in its Autopilot software, after a Model X driver smashed into the back of two parked cop cars. Riad’s case, however, may demonstrate that folks can be held criminally liable for accidents involving vehicles under semi-autonomous control, too.

The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) confirmed Riad had been driving in Autopilot mode at the time of the accident. Tesla has faced multiple investigations with the NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board for all sorts of issues ranging from Autopilot crashes to worn out memory chips.

Tesla has repeatedly warned its drivers to keep their hands on the wheels at all times while driving with Autopilot mode on and its so-called Full Self-Driving mode. ®

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