Tesla Driver Charged With Manslaughter in Fatal Crash Involving Autopilot

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The case is believed to be the first in which a Tesla driver is charged with a felony involving the car's Autopilot function.

A Tesla driver using the car's Autopilot function has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with a California crash that killed two people, prosecutors said.

The driver, Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, has pleaded not guilty. He is a limousine driver and is free on bail pending trial, The Associated Press reported. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23.

In the crash, police said a Tesla Model S was moving at high speed when it left a Los Angeles County freeway and ran a red light before striking a Honda Civic at an intersection on Dec. 29, 2019. Two people who were in the Civic, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez, died at the scene, authorities said.

Riad and a woman in the Tesla were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Riad was charged in October, but the case did not come to light until last week, The AP reported.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent investigators to the crash, and confirmed last week that Autopilot was in use in the Tesla at the time of the crash, The AP said. The Los Angeles case is believed to be the country's first in which a Tesla driver is charged with a felony involving the car's Autopilot function. 

The misuse of Autopilot, which can control steering, speed and braking, is the subject of two federal investigations, according to the news service. 

Tesla has updated the software to try to make it more difficult to abuse and has worked to improve Autopilot’s ability to detect emergency vehicles.

The company has also said that Autopilot and its more sophisticated “Full Self-Driving” system cannot be used without drivers paying attention and being able to react at any time, the AP reported.

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