In recent weeks, prosecutors from Los Angeles county filed two charges of vehicle manslaughter against Kevin George Aziz Riad, a 27-year-old Californian man. The charges are connected to a crash back in December of 2019, when he crashed in a suburban neighborhood in Gardena, CA, while his car was using the autopilot system.
While driving his Tesla Model S, Riad came off of the highway’s exit ramp when his car flew through a red light, slamming into the side of a Honda Civic. The two people in the Honda Civic, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Lopez were pronounced dead at the scene. On the other hand, Riad and another woman who was in his Tesla S were rushed to urgent care with minor injuries.
Riad works full-time as a limousine service driver, and this crash marks the very first time that felony charges have been pursued for a fatal crash involving an autopilot system. Though Riad is currently free on bail and has not pleaded guilty to any charges, his case is pending and he has a preliminary hearing this coming February.
While many of the major news outlets make no mention of the fact that Riad was using the autopilot feature in his Tesla S, the National Highway Safety Administration’s investigation team confirmed the use of autopilot during the time of the accident.
There are many things that the Tesla autopilot system can do, including steering, accelerating, braking, and more. However, what many people don’t understand is that this system is not yet fully autonomous. Drivers must supervise the road at all times, even when the car is on autopilot.
In 2020, the NHTSA put out a formal investigation on Tesla’s autopilot system after several accidents occurred involving emergency vehicles and Tesla vehicles. Beyond that, an Arizona uber driver was given negligent homicide charges last year after he hit a pedestrian while testing out the full automation system on his vehicle.
So, as we know, this is not the first time that people have set up criminal charges surrounding driver technologies on semi-autonomous vehicles. However, Riad’s case is the first time criminal charges were put in play regarding driving technology that is widely used.
As of today, there all well over 700,000 Tesla vehicles that use the semi-autonomous driving system. The NHTSA has been carefully studying and reviewing cases of Autopilot technology misuse. In many cases, inattention and overconfidence end up becoming responsible for several accidents.
One accident report from the National Transportation Safety Board noted Autopilot’s misuse as “automation complacency.” In 2018, a Tesla in Culver City crashed head-on into a firetruck when the system permitted the driver to “disengage from driving.” Fortunately, neither of the parties involved in the crash were injured.
Since the start of this string of crashes, Tesla has put out updates for its software, making it more difficult for drivers to misuse it.
Though many major news outlets have reached out to Riad’s attorney for comment requests, there have not been any responses thus far.
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