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Driver Ignored Warnings in Fatal Self-Driving Tesla Accident

By: Allison Perrine June 23, 2017
The first self-driving fatality resulted from human error, a report finds.

A report on the first self-driving car fatality released last week found the driver ignored seven visual warning signs to put his hands on the wheel before wrecking.

On May 7, 2016, Ohio resident Joshua Brown, 40, was driving a Tesla Model S on a highway in Williston, Florida. He was driving at 74 MPH, though the speed limit was 65 MPH, when he crashed into the side of a truck’s trailer after ignoring seven warning signs to put his hands on the steering wheel, according to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report released this week.

A camera in the car did not detect the side of a white tractor-trailer while it was making a turn into Brown’s lane, and the radar sensors did not activate an emergency brake. The radar "tunes out what looks like an overhead road sign to avoid false braking events,” tweeted Tesla CEO Elon Musk after the accident.

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Brown did not manually brake or take control of the wheel before the wreck, either.

“He went so fast through my trailer, I didn’t see him,” Frank Baressi, the truck’s driver, said.

Brown was not unfamiliar with the self-driving technology. For the first 9 months he owned his Tesla Model S, he put 45,000 miles on it, according to a report in the New York Times. Brown made several YouTube videos promoting this car and celebrated the self-driving system.

Brown was able to use the self-driving system for 37.5 minutes of the 41-minute drive, according to the NTSB report.

Speculation has spread over whether the accident occurred due to the self-driving car’s faulty system, or because Brown did not heed the warnings the car displayed. Rumors spread about Brown in the media shortly after the crash; Baressi told media outlets that he heard the noise of a Harry Potter video playing, but did not see it himself.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is investigating the crash, said it had drawn “no conclusions about how or why the crash occurred.”

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