California prosecutors have charged a Tesla driver with two counts of manslaughter following a fatal crash in December 2019. According to the Associated Press, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed that the Autopilot driver assistance feature was active at the time of the crash. This makes this case notable as the first felony charges to result from a fatal accident involving a partially automated driving system.
The fatal accident took place in Gardena, California on December 29, 2019. According to reports, the Tesla Model S owned by Kevin Riad left State Route 91, failed to stop at a red light, then collided with a Honda Civic, killing the two occupants of that car, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez. Within days, NHTSA announced it would investigate the incident, one of several cases involving Tesla Autopilot the agency is investigating.
The AP reports that no one involved in the case is prepared to speak publicly before a preliminary hearing on February 23, although it notes that Riad has pleaded not guilty. The families of the two victims are suing Riad and Tesla in separate lawsuits, alleging Riad was negligent and Tesla sold defective vehicles. The cases are expected to go to court in 2023.
Although these are the first felony charges for an accident involving a driver assistance system like Autopilot, in 2020 an Arizona grand jury indicted Rafaela Vasquez, the safety driver who was in charge of an Uber R&D self-driving vehicle that struck and killed Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, in 2018.