Jan 18, 2022 - Economy & Business

Tesla driver is first to face felony charges in crash involving autopilot

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California prosecutors have filed two manslaughter charges against the driver of a Tesla, who ran a red light and killed two people in 2019 while using the vehicle's Autopilot function, AP reports.

Why it matters: The driver, Kevin George Aziz Riad, is the first person in the U.S. charged with a felony for a fatal car crash involving Tesla's advanced driver assist system, according to AP.

  • Riad pleaded not guilty to the charges stemming from the crash. His preliminary hearing is slated for Feb. 23, per AP.
  • An attorney for Riad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The backdrop: The automaker's partially automated driving system is the subject of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding similar crashes in several states.

  • The U.S. road safety regulator increased its oversight of Tesla in 2020 after receiving stark criticism for its hands-off regulatory approach to driver-assistance technology.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Joann Muller: The manslaughter charges are a reminder that cars with assisted driving systems are not fully autonomous, and do not drive themselves. Motorists are still responsible for their car’s safe operation. 

What to watch: The charges could have a chilling effect on next-generation technologies under development, like Volvo's Ride Pilot, that would allow drivers to relax or work while the car handles the driving under certain conditions. 

  • Volvo, and not the human driver, would be liable for any mishaps when the system is engaged, the company says. Still, Volvo adds it will not launch the technology until it has been verified as safe.
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