Auto Tech

First felony charges filed for fatal Tesla Autopilot crash

Vehicular manslaughter charges brought against a motorist involved in a fatal Tesla Autopilot crash could set an important precedent for driver aid tech.

Felony charges brought against a motorist using Tesla's Autopilot tech could set an important precedent.
Tesla

California prosecutors have filed what appear to be the first felony charges in the United States against a motorist using a partially automated driver assistance system. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is charging the driver of a Tesla involved in a fatal Autopilot-related collision in 2019 with two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

AP News reports that prosecutors filed charges in October, alleging that the defendant, Kevin George Aziz Riad, ran a red light in his Tesla Model S with Autopilot active and collided with another vehicle, killing its two passengers. 

In 2020, prosecutors in Arizona charged an Uber safety driver with negligent homicide when her autonomous SUV struck and killed a pedestrian, but that vehicle was still in its testing phase. The two vehicular manslaughter charges brought against Riad are believed to be the first raised against a driver using a partially automated technology that is widely available for consumers to buy and use on the road today, which means it could set a precedent for incidents involving motorists using not only Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving beta technologies but also similar systems from other automakers, such as Super Cruise in GM vehicles and Ford's new BlueCruise tech.

This isn't the first time that Tesla finds itself at the center of litigation surrounding its driver aid tech. In 2019, the automaker was sued for wrongful death after a fatal Autopilot collision in Florida. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also announced back in August that it is formally investigating Tesla Autopilot and a dozen crashes involving the technology and collisions with parked emergency vehicles. The families of the passengers who died in the 2019 crash are bringing separate civil lawsuits against Tesla and Riad.

Tesla does not operate a public relations department to field requests for comment. Note that FSD is not a fully self-driving technology and there are no self-driving cars currently for sale.

Riad is currently free on bail awaiting his preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for Feb. 23.