A driver was so enamored of his Tesla Model S sedan that he nicknamed the car “Tessy,” praised the safety benefits of its “Autopilot” system and was watching a Harry Potter video when he became the first person to die in a wreck involving a car in self-driving mode.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the driver’s death Thursday, and said it is investigating the design and performance of the Autopilot system.
Joshua D. Brown of Canton, Ohio, the 40-year-old owner of a technology company, was killed May 7 in Williston, Florida, when his car’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate its brakes, according to statements by the government and the automaker. Just one month earlier, Brown had credited the Autopilot system for preventing a collision on an interstate.
Frank Baressi, 62, the driver of the truck and owner of Okemah Express, said the Tesla driver was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.”
The movie “was still playing when he died,” Baressi told The Associated Press in an interview from his home in Palm Harbor, Florida, saying the careening car “snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road.”