PALO ALTO – The family of Joshua Brown is not ruling out suing electric car maker Tesla after Brown died in a May 7 crash while he was using his Model S car’s self-driving mechanism called Autopilot.
Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio was a high-ranking member of the U.S. Navy. He died in a crash in Williston, Florida while driving his Model S back from a family trip to Walt Disney World.
Brown’s family hired Jack Landskronker of the firm Landskronker Grieco Merriman of Cleveland and the firm is investigating the crash. Messages to Landskronker’s firm were not returned.
Brown was a strong proponent of Tesla’s Autopilot feature, having created several videos on the topic which he uploaded to his YouTube channel. In his videos he showed autopilot in action, demonstrating lane changes and how the feature even saved him from a possible crash at one time.
That video, titled “Autopilot Saves Model S” has more than 3.3 million views on YouTube.
“Since the release of Autopilot, we’ve continuously educated customers on the use of the features, reminding them that they’re responsible for remaining alert and present when using Autopilot and they must be prepared to take control at all times,” Keely Sulprizio, spokesperson for Tesla told the Northern California Record.
In a blog post from June 30, Tesla responded to the accident stating that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during Brown’s crash.
The post states that Brown’s May 7 crash was the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated and that in the United States, there is a fatality for every 94 million miles driven.
Brown’s crash happened on a divided highway when, with Autopilot engaged, a tractor-trailer drove across the road perpendicular to the Tesla Model S and neither Autopilot or the driver noticed the white side of the truck against the bright sky, so the brake was not applied.
Tesla maintains that the high ride height of the tractor-trailer and its location across the road caused an extremely rare circumstance in which the Model S passed under the trailer and the bottom of the trailer impacted with the windshield of the car.
“Each time a driver activates Autopilot, their vehicle provides both a clear visual indication on the instrument panel as well as an auditory chime that the Autopilot has been engaged,” Sulprizio said. A message scrolls across the instrument panel reminding the drive to keep their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over at any time.
Tesla also notes that it disables the Autopilot feature by default and requires that customers using the feature recognize that it is new technology still in the public beta phase. When users activate Autopilot, they must check a box stating they understand that the feature is to assist driving and that drivers are still required to keep their hands on the wheel at all times and drivers need to maintain control of the vehicle and be prepared to take over at any time.
There are also frequent system checks of the system and if a driver’s hands are not on the wheel, a visual and audio alert is sounded.
“Safety is a top priority at Tesla and we remain committed to ensuring our cars are among the absolute safest vehicles on the road. It is paramount that our customers also exercise safe behavior when using our vehicles - including remaining alert and present when using the car’s driver’s assist features,” Sulprizio said.