The burden of responsibility still lies with the driver in a semi-autonomous vehicle.
As the world aims to make autonomous driving a reality, one of the biggest hurdles is perfecting legislation surrounding such technology. If an autonomous vehicle crashes while the driver is not in control, is the car at fault or the driver? Those are questions for another day, but in today's world where semi-autonomous driving is the best we have, the driver remains fully responsible for maintaining control. This statement has now been validated by a court, after a Tesla driver who ran a red light while Autopilot was engaged was charged for the resulting death of two other road users.
The Washington Post reports that California prosecutors have filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, after his Tesla Model S, which "was moving at a high speed," left a freeway and ran a red light in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. It hit a Honda Civic at the intersection, killing Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez. Riad and a woman in the Tesla went to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and Riad is currently out on bail. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), Autopilot was active at the time of the crash.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that criminal charges have been placed following a crash involving an automated driving system. Arizona prosecutors filed a charge of negligent homicide against an Uber driver who was taking part in autonomous vehicle testing when his SUV struck and killed a pedestrian. However, this appears to be the first instance of someone being charged with a felony in the US for a fatal crash while using a partially automated system.
The families of the slain are suing Tesla and Riad in separate lawsuits, alleging that Tesla sells defective vehicles that can accelerate suddenly and that lack an effective automatic emergency braking system, while Riaz is accused of negligent driving and is said to have multiple moving infractions on his record and could not handle the performance of the car. A joint trial is scheduled for mid-2023, but in the meantime, Tesla must also deal with multiple NHTSA investigations and the backlash caused by a recent study proving that Autopilot creates dangerous drivers. It's a bad bit of press for Tesla, but Riad has bigger problems since both the NHTSA and Tesla have made it very clear that the driver remains responsible for the operation of the car.