California prosecutors have filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against a driver of a Tesla on Autopilot who ran a red light, then slammed into another car and killed two people in 2019.
The defendant appears to be the first person to be charged with a felony in the United States for a fatal crash involving a motorist who was using a partially automated driving system.
Los Angeles County prosecutors filed the charges in October, but they came to light only last week. The misuse of Autopilot, which can control steering, speed and braking, has occurred on numerous occasions and is the subject of investigations by two federal agencies.
27-year-old limousine service driver Kevin George Aziz Riad pleaded not guilty and was released on bail while the case is pending, the Associated Press reported.
It is estimated that around 765,000 Tesla vehicles are equipped with the company's automated driving technology in the United States.
In May of last year, California officers arrested a man when they saw that he was sitting in the back seat of a Tesla while it was moving down a freeway.
Tesla is currently running a beta program for its "Full Self-Driving" vehicles which began a year ago. Tesla's CEO recently responded to a shareholder on Twitter who claimed "There has not been one accident or injury" since the beta program launched. Musk replied to the tweet writing, simply, "correct."
Industry publication Electrek said that the announcement could indicate that Tesla owners who are involved in the beta program are also being very careful, just as much as the system installed into the car is proving to possibly be safe. Electrek reports that videos show drivers in the program having to take control in potential accident situations.
In 2020, a backup driver in an Uber autonomous vehicle was charged with negligent homicide, as the Associated Press reported.
The driver was said to have been distracted just before the vehicle struck and killed a Phoenix-area woman. 46-year-old Rafaela Vasquez was charged by the Maricopa County Attorney's office in the 2018 crash which happened in Tempe, Arizona.