Seattle/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on April 23, 2024
Auto-Pilot to Jail, Tesla Driver Charged in Autopilot-Assisted Vehicular Homicide on Washington HighwaySource: Google Street View

A Tesla driver is facing vehicular homicide charges after hitting and killing a motorcyclist while the vehicle's Autopilot was engaged. The fatal incident, which took place Friday afternoon on Eastbound State Route 522 at Fales Road, resulted in the death of 28-year-old Jeffrey Nissen, who was pronounced dead at the scene. According to KIRO 7, the Tesla driver was reportedly using his phone and not paying attention to the road when the crash occurred.

The driver was questioned by police and underwent field sobriety tests. He admitted to having consumed an alcoholic beverage earlier that day but was found not to be impaired. Although the Tesla driver stepped "off line" once during the voluntary sobriety test, no substantial evidence of driving under the influence was detected, as detailed in the probable cause documents obtained by KOMO News. Despite the absence of intoxication, the driver's inattention and the involvement of the Autopilot feature were cited as key factors leading to his arrest.

Washington State Patrol troopers wrote that the driver's inattention while his car was on Autopilot, "putting the trust in the machine to drive for him," was the primary cause behind the probably cause for arrest. The Herald reported that the motorcyclist, Jeffrey Nissen, was ejected and the Tesla became lodged on top of him. This incident adds to a growing list of accidents involving Tesla's Autopilot feature, which has faced scrutiny in the past for its role in crashes.

The aftermath of the tragic crash has amplified the debate around the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which requires the driver to be attentive and ready to take over at any moment. Tesla, who just reduced the price of its Full Self-Driving software from $12,000 to $8,000 the day before the accident, states that the technology is intended for use with a drivers who are fully attentive. After posting $100,000 bail, the Tesla driver was released from jail Sunday night, as reported by The Herald.