Will a Tesla Autopilot driver be charged with Vehicular Manslaughter?

Was it the drivers fault or the vehicles?

For the first time ever, felony charges are being brought against a driver who was using Tesla’s partially automated driving assistance system called Tesla Autopilot.

Two counts of vehicular manslaughter were filed in October in California by The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for a collision that occurred in 2019. The prosecutors allege that defendant Kevin George Aziz Rias ran a red light in his Tesla Model S with the autopilot system activated and collided with another vehicle, killing the two passengers inside.

Along with these charges, the families of the passengers are also filing separate civil lawsuits again both Tesla and the defendant, Riad, who is currently out on bail awaiting the trial set to begin on Feb 23rd.

While this is the first fatal crash in which felony charges are being filed, this isn’t the first lawsuit filed against Tesla for its autopilot system. Back in 2018, a Tesla Model 3 was travelling southbound on a road in Florida when it struck an eastbound tractor-trailer, ripping the roof off and killing the driver, Jeremy Banner. The Banner family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tesla in 2019.

Another incident occurred in 2018 when a man named Walter Huang’s Tesla Model X was driving with the autopilot engaged when it veered from the road and collided with a concrete barrier in California, killing Huang. The Huang family also filed a lawsuit against Tesla, but this time the company firmly placed the blame on driver negligence:

“The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this incident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so. Tesla is extremely clear that Autopilot requires the driver to be alert and have hands on the wheel. If the system detects that hands are not on, it provides visual and auditory alerts. This happened several times on Mr. Huang’s drive that day.”

While driver negligence is the cause for most collisions, Tesla hasn’t been painting itself with the best brush lately with the occlusion of things like its autopilot’s new “Assertive Mode”, which causes the vehicle to engage in aggressive and illegal driving habits.

Related Tech News: Will Assertive mode on Tesla vehicles engage in illegal behaviour?

However, whatever the outcome of this new Felony case is, it will be very important in setting a precedent for all autopilot technology.

Featured image: Tesla via Tesla.com