World Economy

Tesla Shares Fall After First Autopilot Death

Tesla Shares Fall After First Autopilot Death
Tesla Shares Fall After First Autopilot Death

The US announced Thursday the first fatality in a wreck involving a car in self-driving mode, the 40-year-old owner of a technology company who nicknamed his vehicle “Tessy” and had praised its sophisticated “autopilot” system just one month earlier for preventing a collision on an interstate. The American government said it is investigating the design and performance of the system aboard the Tesla Model S sedan. Tesla shares fell 3.2%.

Joshua D. Brown, of Canton, Ohio, died in the accident May 7 in Williston, Florida, when his car’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate its brakes, according to government records obtained Thursday, AP reported.

Frank Baressi, 62, the driver of the truck and owner of Okemah Express LLC, said the Tesla driver was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.”

“It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi told The Associated Press in an interview from his home in Palm Harbor, Florida. He acknowledged he couldn’t see the movie, only heard it.

Tesla Motors Inc. said it is not possible to watch videos on the Model S touch screen. There was no reference to the movie in initial police reports.

Brown’s published obituary said he was the founder of Nexu Innovations Inc., working on wireless Internet networks and camera systems.

Brown was an enthusiastic boaster of his 2015 Tesla Model S and in April credited its sophisticated autopilot system for avoiding a crash when a commercial truck swerved into his lane on an interstate. He published a video of the incident online. “Hands down the best car I have ever owned and use it to its full extent,” Brown wrote.

Tesla said this was the first known death in over 130 million miles of autopilot operation. It said the NHTSA investigation is a preliminary inquiry to determine whether the system worked as expected.

The autopilot mode allows the Model S sedan and Model X SUV to steer itself within a lane, change lanes and speed up or slow down based on surrounding traffic or the driver’s set speed.

It can automatically apply brakes and slow the vehicle. It can also scan for parking spaces and parallel park on command.

Shares of Tesla Motors Inc. fell $6.77, or 3.2%, in after-hours trading after news of the crash was released. During the trading day, the stock was up 1% at $212.28.