First-ever felony charges filed against driver in fatal Autopilot-involved crash
A Tesla limo driver has become the first person to face felony charges in the US for vehicular manslaughter with a partially-automated driving system. His car ran a red light and hit another vehicle, killing both passengers.
Kevin George Aziz Riad was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter after his Autopilot-enabled Tesla Model S ran a red light at high speed and struck a Honda Civic at an intersection in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena in December 2019. Both passengers of the Honda died at the scene, while Riad and his passenger were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
While Los Angeles County filed the charges against Riad in October, they only became public knowledge last week. The limousine service driver has pleaded not guilty.
Tesla has warned customers that neither Autopilot nor its newer more sophisticated Full Self-Driving mode are fully capable of navigating the road without human help, and drivers are expected to be paying attention even with these modes engaged. In response to the charges against Riad, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a statement reminding customers that no vehicles currently on the road can drive themselves.
The National Transportation Safety Board has raised its concerns about such features, condemning drivers’ tendency to rely on Autopilot to drive the car while the operator sleeps or plays video games as “automation complacency.” The NTSB has investigated some 26 Autopilot-involved crashes since 2016, involving 11 deaths.
Tesla may be held “criminally, civilly, or morally culpable” for the deaths of Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez, the passengers of the Honda Civic killed in the crash, if it is found responsible for unleashing a dangerous technology on the nation’s roads, University of South Carolina law professor Bryant Walker Smith told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
The victims’ families have sued the electric vehicle company, alleging that Tesla sells defective vehicles capable of accelerating suddenly while lacking an effective automatic emergency braking system. They have also sued Riad for negligence.