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Fatal Tesla Car Crash Investigation Continues: Autopilot Woes, DVD Player Distractions And More

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Tesla Model S' autopilot just registered its first victim in the United States, after an accident involving the autonomous vehicle happened on May 7.

The Tesla car that Joshua Brown was driving ran full speed into a semi in Florida — as the tractor-trailer took a left at an intersection causing the Model S to hit its side.

Frank Baressi, the driver of the truck, told the media that the Tesla driver was watching Harry Potter right before the autonomous car collided into his vehicle. Baressi admitted that he only heard the movie and cannot vouch that Brown was watching it while the crash happened.

Recent reports from Reuters confirm that a portable DVD player was in the crashed car.

"There was a portable DVD player in the vehicle," Kim Montes, a sergeant of the Florida Highway Patrol, told the news agency. However, no details permeated whether or not the device was being used when the crash happened. The Florida police mentioned that no dashcam was present in the car when the accident took place.

Tesla Motors stated that the unfortunate event happened due to the inability of the Model S to distinguish between the white paint of the tractor-trailer and the "brightly lit sky."

In the statement, Tesla points out that using Autopilot "results in a statistically significant improvement in safety," when paired against standardized manual driving.

To put things in perspective, the carmaker explains that this is the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles driven with the Autopilot on. According to Tesla, there is a fatality for every 94 million miles driven in the United States.

Brown was somewhat of an internet celebrity, as earlier this year he posted a video of his Autopilot-enabled Tesla nearly getting into a car accident. The video quickly became viral.

Despite the fact that the Autopilot system powering Tesla Model S features cutting edge technology, it remains a semi-autonomous mechanism. This means that driver engagement is encouraged and required, and Tesla Motors underlines that the Autopilot is still being tested and far from perfect.

Tesla says that when the Autopilot is on, the car keeps reminding drivers to have their hands on the wheel at all times, thus, limiting unexpected and perilous situations.

One of the direct consequences of the crash is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) started to investigate 25,000 cars from the same line as with Brown's 2015 Model S.

Wayne Cohen, a law professor at George Washington University is not surprised that a fatality occurred.

"The question is whether a fatality will impact the regulatory landscape," Cohen asks.

In Cohen's opinion, pairing a real person with the consequences of automated driving can have lasting repercussions on the future rules in the field. What is more, it is very likely that Tesla will see a lawsuit very soon as a result of the crash.

One major factor in the eventual lawsuit is proving that Brown ignored Tesla's instructions about remaining in control of the vehicle and keeping his hands on the wheel.

We will keep you posted on the ramifications that the 2015 Tesla Model S crash brings.

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