A.I. Kills another human as a Tesla crashes into tractor-trailer

A federal safety agency is sending a three-member team to investigate a fatal crash involving a Tesla electric car and a semitrailer that is strikingly similar to a 2016 crash involving another vehicle made by the company.

According to an accident report from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Jeremy Banner was killed when the Tesla Model 3 he was driving southbound on State Road 7 (U.S. 441) went underneath the side of a tractor-trailer that was making a left turn out of Pero Farms onto the northbound lanes of the divided highway, shearing off the roof of the car. The report states the car continued traveling for approximately three-tenths of a mile after the collision.

Tesla says its Autopilot system is still in public beta testing, and users are warned before using the system that the technology is new and that drivers should not take their hands off the wheel. “When drivers active Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot ‘is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,’ and that ‘you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle’ while using it,” Tesla writes in its blog.

The National Transportation Safety Board said late Friday on Twitter that the team would work in cooperation with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, which is probing the Friday morning crash in Delray Beach.The sheriff’s report didn’t say whether the Tesla’s autopilot or automatic emergency brakes were engaged. Jeremy Beren Banner, 50, died at the scene.

The report didn’t say whether the Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system or its automatic emergency braking system were working at the time of the crash. Tesla released a statement Friday expressing sadness and saying the company is “working to learn more and are reaching out to the authorities to offer our cooperation.”

The crash is similar to one involving a Tesla Model S near Gainesville, Florida, in 2016 in which the car, with Autopilot activated, drove under a tractor-trailer that was making a left turn across a highway, killing the driver.

The NTSB, in a 2017 report, wrote that design limitations of the Autopilot system played a major role in the fatal crash, the first known one in which a vehicle operated on a highway under semi-autonomous control systems. The agency, which makes safety recommendations to the National Highway Safety Administration and other agencies, said that Tesla told Model S owners that Autopilot should be used only on limited-access highways, which are primarily interstates. The report said that despite upgrades to the system, Tesla did not incorporate such protections.

Tesla has said that Autopilot and automatic emergency braking are driver-assist systems, and that drivers are told in the owner’s manual that they must continuously monitor the road and be ready to take control if necessary.

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