Autopilot Cited in Death of Chinese Tesla Driver
Tesla Motors came under renewed questioning about the safety of its Autopilot technology after news emerged on Wednesday of a fatal crash in China that may have occurred while the automated driver-assist system was operating.
The crash took place on Jan. 20 and killed Gao Yaning, 23, when the Tesla Model S he was driving slammed into a road sweeper on a highway near Handan, a city about 300 miles south of Beijing, according to a report broadcast on Wednesday by the Chinese government news channel CCTV.
The report includes in-car video looking through the windshield as the car travels in the left lane at highway speed just before ramming into a parked or slow-moving orange truck. The video, apparently shot by a camera mounted on the rearview mirror, recorded no images, sounds or jolts that would suggest the driver or the car hit the brakes before impact. At that point, the in-car video ends.
“When it was approaching the road sweeper, the car didn’t put on the brake or avoid it,” a police officer said in the CCTV report. “Instead, it crashed right into it.”
In an emailed statement, Tesla said on Wednesday that it had not been able to determine whether Autopilot was active at the time of the Handan accident. The company declined to say when it learned of the fatality in China, or whether it had reported the crash to United States safety officials, who are investigating a fatal accident in Florida on May 7 in which Autopilot was engaged.
So far, that Florida accident is the only confirmed death involving a Tesla with Autopilot turned on. In that accident, there was no sign that the driver or Autopilot had applied the brakes before the car collided at high speed with a tractor-trailer that had turned in front of it.
Although Tesla learned of the Florida accident a few weeks after it happened, it did not publicly disclose it until late June, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was investigating the crash.
特斯拉尽管在佛罗里达州那起事故发生几周后便知道了事故情况，但直到6月末美国国家公路交通安全局(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)宣布正在进行调查时，才公开披露此事。
News of the Chinese crash will renew questions about when the company should disclose information about accidents in cars equipped with Autopilot and what information should be shared.
“Because of the damage caused by the collision, the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to our servers, and we therefore have no way of knowing whether or not Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash,” a Tesla spokeswoman, Alexis Georgeson, said in the company’s statement. “We have tried repeatedly to work with our customer to investigate the cause of the crash, but he has not provided us with any additional information that would allow us to do so,” she said of the car’s owner, Mr. Gao’s father.
She said Tesla was saddened to learn of the death of Mr. Gao. “We take any incident with our vehicles very seriously and immediately reached out to our customer when we learned of the crash,” she said.
Tesla and Autopilot have been under scrutiny since the disclosure of the May fatality. That crash killed Joshua Brown, 40, whose 2015 Model S was traveling 74 miles per hour when it collided with a tractor-trailer that had turned left and was crossing a highway near Williston, Fla. Autopilot’s radar and cameras failed to recognize the white truck against a bright sky.
自从5月那起致人死亡的事故被公开后，特斯拉和自动驾驶一直备受关注。那起事故导致40岁的约书亚·布朗(Joshua Brown)死亡。与一辆牵引式挂车相撞时，布朗驾驶的2015年产Model S正以74英里的时速行驶。那辆挂车已完成左转，正要穿过佛罗里达州威利斯顿附近的一条公路。在能见度很高的情况下，自动驾驶系统的雷达和摄像头未能识别那辆白色的卡车。
News of the China crash comes just three days after Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, outlined changes planned for Autopilot that he said would have prevented Mr. Brown’s accident and that he contended would make the Model S one of the safest cars on the road.
就在有关中国这起事故的新闻出现的三天前，特斯拉首席执行官埃隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)简要介绍了自动驾驶的调整计划。他说相关变化能够防止发生布朗遭遇的那一类事故，并宣称它们会让Model S成为路面上最安全的汽车之一。
The changes include refinements in Autopilot’s radar that improve its ability to spot and identify obstacles down the road and additional warnings to force drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road while the system is active.
Tesla has said Autopilot is not meant to take over completely for a human driver. When Autopilot is turned on, drivers are given audio and text warnings to remain alert and engaged while using it.
In August, Reuters reported that Tesla removed a Chinese term for “self-driving” from its China website after a driver in Beijing had a nonfatal crash while Autopilot was engaged. That driver later complained that the carmaker had oversold Autopilot’s capability.
The video of the January accident indicates the type of unexpected problem that can crop up at highway speeds. Critics of Autopilot say a driver can be lulled into complacency, leaving too little time to take back control of the vehicle.
Mr. Gao was traveling in the left lane of a three-lane highway with another car ahead of him. When the car ahead moved into the center lane, it revealed the orange truck, which was straddling the road’s left shoulder. Mr. Gao’s car never slowed before plowing into the truck.
Police investigators concluded that Mr. Gao was responsible for the accident, CCTV reported. But in July his family sued the dealer who had sold the Tesla.
The driver’s father, Gao Jubin, told CCTV he thought his son had been relying on Autopilot to drive the car and so was not watching the road when the crash took place.
The lawsuit was filed “to let the public know that self-driving technology has some defects,” the family’s lawyer said in the report. “We are hoping Tesla, when marketing its products, will be more cautious. Don’t just use self-driving as a selling point for young people.”