The felony charges are the first in a fatal accident involving Autopilot. Nation World News

The felony charges are the first in a fatal accident involving Autopilot.  AP News

DETROIT ( Associated Press) — California prosecutors have filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against the driver of a Tesla on Autopilot that turned on a red light, slammed into another car and killed two people in 2019.

The defendant appears to be the first person in the United States to be charged with a serious accident involving a motorist who was using a partially automated driving system. Los Angeles County prosecutors filed charges in October, but they only came to light last week.

Driver Kevin George Aziz Riyadh, 27, has pleaded not guilty. Riyadh, a limousine service driver, is free on bail while the case is pending.

Abuse of the autopilot, which can control steering, speed and braking, has occurred on several occasions and is the subject of investigation. by two federal agencies. Filing charges in a California accident can give drivers using systems such as Autopilot a notice that they cannot rely on them to control the vehicles.

The criminal charges are not the first to involve automated driving systems, but they are the first to include a widely used driver technology. Officials in Arizona charged Uber with negligent manslaughter in 2020 for taking part in a trial of a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads. The Uber vehicle, an SUV carrying a human backup driver, rammed and killed a pedestrian.

In contrast, autopilot and other driver-assistance systems are widely used on roads around the world. An estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with it in the United States alone.

In a Tesla crash, police said a Model S was speeding when it left a freeway and ran a red light in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena and rammed a Honda Civic at an intersection on December 29, 2019 . Two people who were in the Civic, Gilberto Alcázar López and María Guadalupe Nieves-López, died on the spot. A woman in Riyadh and Tesla was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Autopilot is not mentioned in the criminal charging documents. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sent investigators to the crash, confirmed last week that Autopilot was being used at Tesla at the time of the crash.

Riyadh’s defense attorney did not respond to requests for comment last week, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office declined to discuss the matter. Riyadh’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 23.

The NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board are reviewing widespread abuse of the Autopilot by drivers, whose overconfidence and inattention have been blamed for a number of accidents, including fatalities. In an accident report, the NTSB referred to its abuse as “automation complacency”.

The agency said that in an accident in 2018 in Culver City, California, In which a Tesla hit a firetruck, the design of the Autopilot system “allowed the driver to detach from the driving task.” No one was hurt in that accident.

Last May, a California man was arrested after officers noticed his Tesla was going down a freeway with a man in the back seat and no one behind the steering wheel.

Teslas That Have Access to Autopilot Have Hit a Highway Barrier Too Or the tractor-trailers that were crossing the road. NHTSA has sent investigation teams into at least 11 deaths in 26 accidents involving autopilot since 2016.

Messages have been left asking for comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department. Since the Autopilot crashes began, Tesla has updated the software to make it harder for drivers to abuse it. It has also attempted to improve the autopilot’s ability to detect emergency vehicles.

The company has said that the autopilot and a more sophisticated “full self-driving” system cannot self-drive and that drivers must pay attention and be prepared to react at any time. Hundreds of Tesla owners are testing “full self-driving” on public roads in the US

Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies automated vehicles, said this is the first US case to his knowledge in a fatal accident involving a partially automated driver-assistance system. Serious criminal charges were filed. Tesla, he said, could be “criminal, civil or morally guilty” if it is found to have put a dangerous technology on the road.

Donald Slavic, a Colorado attorney who has served as a consultant in automotive technology lawsuits, including several against Tesla, said he, too, is unaware of any previous felony charges filed against a US driver, Which was using partially automated driver technology. fatal crash.

The families of López and Nieves-López have sued Tesla and Riyadh in separate lawsuits. They allege negligence by Riyadh and accused Tesla of selling faulty vehicles that can accelerate suddenly and lack an effective automatic emergency braking system. A joint trial is scheduled for mid-2023.

Lopez’s family alleged in court documents that the car “suddenly and unintentionally accelerated at excessive, unsafe and uncontrollable speeds.” Nieves-López’s family further claims that Riyadh was an unsafe driver, had multiple on-the-go violations on his record, and could not handle a high-performance Tesla.

Separately, NHTSA is investigating a dozen accidents in which a Tesla on Autopilot ran into several parked emergency vehicles. At least 17 people were injured and one person died in the accidents that took place under investigation.

When asked about the murder charges against Riyadh, the agency issued a statement saying that there is no vehicle on sale that can be driven by itself. And whether a car is using a partially automated system, the agency said, “every vehicle needs to have a human driver under control at all times.”

NHTSA said that all state laws hold human drivers responsible for the operation of their vehicles. Although automated systems can help drivers avoid accidents, the agency said, the technology must be used responsibly.

Rafaela Vasquez, the driver of the Uber autonomous test vehicle, was charged with negligent murder in 2020 In 2018, an SUV fatally hit a pedestrian in suburban Phoenix. Vasquez has pleaded not guilty. Arizona prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against Uber.

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Nation World News researcher Rhonda Schaffner in New York contributed to this report.

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