Tesla settles lawsuit over alleged Autopilot death

Tesla has reached an undisclosed settlement with the family of an Apple engineer who was killed when his Model X SUV hit a barrier while its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system was allegedly in operation.

The company was due to face trial in a California court today over the death of Walter Huang, who died in 2018 when his 2017 Tesla Model X electric SUV veered off a highway near San Francisco.

The lawsuit, filed by Mr Huang’s family against Tesla, claimed the crash was caused by the company’s semi-autonomous driving system.

A National Transport and Safety Board (NTSB) investigation had found Mr Huang made no efforts to change the car’s trajectory in the moments before the crash, as he was playing a video game on his smartphone prior to the fatal impact.

Tesla’s Autopilot system incorporates functions of now-common Level 2 autonomous driving technologies, such as adaptive cruise control plus lane-keep and lane-change assistance.

Autopilot has drawn criticism from experts who believe its name gives drivers a false sense of understanding about what the system is capable of. 

While Tesla requires drivers to place their hands on the steering wheel to use Autopilot – or lock them out if the system detects they aren’t paying attention – many users in the past have found ways to bypass its governing controls.

This led to a recall of more than two million Teslas in the US late last year, after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found the failsafes in place weren’t enough to prevent drivers misusing Autopilot.

According to Reuters, neither Tesla nor Mr Huang’s family have detailed what was included in the settlement.

The trial was set to be the latest lawsuit faced by Tesla regarding deaths allegedly involving Autopilot.

In July 2023, a court found the driver of a Tesla Model S sedan which ran a red light and killed two people in a crash was at fault for the incident, not the Autopilot system which was engaged at the time.

This was followed in November by Tesla also being cleared of fault for a fatal crash which saw a Model 3 driver killed after the electric sedan veered off the road and into a tree at 105km/h – also with Autopilot engaged.

Reuters reports Autopilot has been the subject of more than 40 NHTSA investigations, which includes 23 deaths in the US.

There have been no reported deaths linked to Tesla vehicles operating Autopilot in Australia.

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