It was bound to happen. After 130 million miles of Autopilot activations, there was a fatality during a crash that occurred in a Model S. Tesla’s safety record to date has been stellar, but news of the first fatality was bound to cause an overreaction. Reaction condemning Tesla’s autopilot was swift, and the NHTSA opened an investigation into the cause of the crash.
However, not everything was as it initially seemed. According to police who investigated the accident a portable DVD player showing the movie “Harry Potter” seems to be the primary reason for the accident.
The man killed in the crash was Joshua Brown, who was a single driver of the Model S at the time it collided with a truck. According to the driver of the Truck, Brown appeared to have been watching a Harry Potter movie on his portable DVD player when the collision took place, reported the AP. The movie allegedly was still playing after the accident. The Florida Highway Patrol spoke to the press and confirmed the basic details of the AP report.
Sergeant Kim Montes told Reuters that “there was a portable DVD player in the vehicle.” Investigation by the AP revealed the Brown had a spotty record. He had eight speeding tickets, although the most recent was from 2011.
In an unusual twist, Brown had documented his own history of using the Model S Autopilot, uploading a video of the system “saving his life.” The video uploaded to the internet is from a dash cam, which shows a boom truck pulling into the lane right in front of the car. The Tesla then swerves quickly out of the way, avoiding a collision.
Brown described the near-miss himself in his comments to the video. “You can see where I took over when there’s a little bit of blip in the steering. Tessy [sic] had already moved to the right to avoid the collision. I was not able to slow down even more due to the heavy traffic (cars were behind me). Once I got behind him I slowly added more room between us until he exited. I was not tail gating [sic] after the incident.”
Brown was a serious Tesla aficionado. He had uploaded several videos about the Tesla to his YouTube channel. Although the video and subsequent crash could make you infer that Autopilot failed, that’s probably not the right conclusion. The Autopilot maneuver that prevented accident with the boom truck was not completely independent of the driver. The system notified Brown as the driver that he needed to retake control of the car.
No video of the fatal crash is known to exist, so it is still an open question about how distracted Brown was by watching his DVD player. Since Tesla says it is not possible to watch videos on the touch screen, then it is likely that the DVD player was just a p portable device added by Brown.
Tesla is not in the clear yet, but the statement given by the driver of the truck also sheds light on Brown’s activities. Frank Baressi states that Brown was speeding and “He went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.” The movie “was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi told The Associated Press. Baressi admitted he could hear the movie but did not see it himself.