California prosecutors filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against the driver of a Tesla on Autopilot who ran a red light, slammed into another car and killed two people in 2019. The defendant appears to be the first person to be charged with a felony in the U.S. for a fatal crash involving a motorist who was using a partially automated driving system. Los Angeles County prosecutors filed the charges in October; they came to light only last week. The driver, Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, has pleaded not guilty. Riad, a limousine service driver, is free on bail, the Associated Press reports.
The misuse of Autopilot, which can control steering, speed and braking, has occurred frequently and is the subject of investigations by two federal agencies. The California case could serve notice to drivers who use systems like Autopilot that they cannot rely on them to control vehicles. Authorities in Arizona filed a charge of negligent homicide in 2020 against a driver Uber had hired to take part in the testing of a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads. The Uber vehicle, an SUV with the human backup driver on board, struck and killed a pedestrian. Autopilot and other driver-assist systems are widely used. An estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with it in the U.S. In the Tesla crash, a Model S was moving at a high speed when it left a freeway and ran a red light in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena and struck a Honda Civic. Two people in the Civic died at the scene. Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies automated vehicles, said this is the first U.S. case to his knowledge in which serious criminal charges were filed in a fatal crash involving a partially automated driver-assist system.