UPDATE 21 JUNE 2017: The Washington Post just reported that a 500-page report on the first Tesla Autopilot crash has been released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
While the NTSB has not provided analysis or judgement as the case is still being investigated, some of the information revealed is worth noting. Apparently the driver, Joshua Brown, drove for 41 minutes, 37 of those with the autopilot enabled.
Even with Autopilot, Tesla tells drivers to keep hands on the wheel. According to the NTSB report, Brown seems to have ignored six audible warnings and seven visual warnings to keep his hands on the steering. Brown also manually increased the autopilot's speed two minutes before he crashed into a truck.
Since the incident, Tesla has made changes to Autopilot, including a strikeout system. If drivers repeatedly ignore safety warnings, Autopilot will then be disabled until the next time the car is started.
The case has been under heavy scrutiny as self-driving vehicles have been pushed as a future alternative and the crash has raised questions on the safety of the technology. The rest of us can conclude, though, that no matter how 'smart' your car is, it's still better to keep your hands on the wheel if you're in the driver's seat.
Previously, on Tesla
Why didn't Tesla's Autopilot detect the oncoming vehicle? Apparently Tesla tunes out what it detects as a huge overhead sign, so as not to cause unnecessary braking. Tragically neither the driver nor the Autopilot spotted the trailer in time and it passed under the ride-high trailer but could not avoid a collision.
Tesla posted about the incident on its official blog, expressing sorrow and condolences for the death of the man, who the company described as "a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community".
The Autopilot feature has come under fire from autonomous driving experts who say that it was introduced far too soon, with drivers having false confidence in the feature. While it helps make driving less of a chore, drivers could easily be lulled into thinking the Autopilot is more capable than it is. Drivers in any case must still monitor the vehicle even with Autopilot on. So far Tesla is the only one to introduce something like Autopilot, with other companies developing their own versions but not yet deploying it.
Interestingly Volvo has gone on record to say that it will take full legal liability for all its cars when they operate in fully autonomous mode. A risky move to take, but the company is not putting out its autonomous feature until more testing and a proper trial is done. The latter is only expected by next year.
It's too soon to say whether the Autopilot was at fault in this particular case but we'll keep you updated on the investigations as they happen.