Man behind wheel in Tesla Autopilot crash that killed two charged with vehicular manslaughter in first case of its kind

Tesla says Autopilot and FSD system require driver to pay attention at all times

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Tuesday 18 January 2022 22:09

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A California motorist has become the first person to be charged over a fatal crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot system.

Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, faces two counts of vehicular manslaughter after being behind the wheel of a Tesla when it ran a red light, crashing into another car and killing two people.

It is the first time a motorist has been charged with a felony for an incident involving the electric car maker’s partially automated driving system, according to the Associated Press.

Los Angeles County prosecutors filed the charges in October, but details of the case have only just emerged.

Mr Riad, who works as a limousine service driver, is out on bail while the case is pending.

Tesla’s Autopilot system can be engaged while driving to automatically control the vehicle’s steering, speed and braking, and has been the subject of numerous investigations by federal agencies following accidents.

Around 75,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with the technology in the US.

Investigators say that in Mr Riad’s 2019 case, the Tesla Model S was traveling at high speed when it left a freeway and ran through a red light in the Gardena suburb of Los Angeles.

It then allegedly it a Honda Civic, killing its occupants, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez, who died at the scene.

Mr Riad and a female passenger required hospital treatment for non-life threatening injuries.

While criminal charging documents do not mention Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent investigators to the crash and confirmed to the Associated Press that Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident.

Mr Riad’s preliminary hearing in the case is set for 23 February and The Independent has reached out to the Los Angeles County District Attorney for comment.

The criminal charges are not the first in the US to involve an automated driving system.

Authorities in Arizona charged an Uber driver with negligent homicide in 2020 over a crash during testing of the company’s fully autonomous vehicle on a public road.

The Uber SUV struck and killed a pedestrian despite having a human back-up driver onboard.

The NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have carried out a string of investigations into the misuse of Autopilot by Tesla drivers.

In 2018 a Tesla hit a fire engine in Culver City, California, with the NTSB saying afterwards that Autopliot had “permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task.”

In May 2021 a California man was arrested for sitting in the back seat of his Tesla while it drove on a freeway on Autopilot with no one behind the wheel.

The NHTSA is currently investigating crashes in which at least 17 people were injured and one person was killed.

Tesla has said that its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving system require drivers to pay attention and react at anytime.

The company’s FSD system, which now costs $12,000, is being Beta tested by hundreds of Tesla owners across the US.

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