Uh-Oh….Tesla Driverless Car Crashes, Kills Passenger

The year’s half over, but with the Summer Olympics and Zika Virus on a collision course and America’s wildest presidential race still unspooling like an increasingly nuts episode of “Scandal,” we don’t expect 2016 to get any less crazy before it ends.

The year’s latest strange and tragic turn took place on the technology front yesterday, when one of Tesla’s sometimes self-driving Model S vehicles had its top sheared-off by a tractor trailer when the 18-wheeler turned at an intersection, killing its passenger.

According to Tesla:

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S."

To add insult to fatal injury, it turns out the driver-turned-passenger-turned-victim was a huge evangelist for Tesla, Josh Brown, a Navy veteran who was previously internet-famous after posting a YouTube video of his black Model S Tesla narrowly avoiding an accident with an aggressively merging truck, a little less than three months ago.

As noted by TechCrunch, the driver of the other vehicle, a red, 2014 Freightliner Cascadia, was not injured. According to the crash report, the Tesla ran off the road after the collision, finally coming to a stop hundreds of feet from the crash site, suggesting a high rate of speed at the time of the accident. 

As Road & Track reports, this is the first Tesla death while the car’s autopilot has been engaged, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is investigating. NHTSA’s early comments that a portable DVD player was discovered in the wreckage, as well a comments from the truck driver, suggest Mr. Brown may have been watching something prior to the accident and thus distracted while nearing the intersection.

But here’s the capper: According to a tweet from CNBC reporter Philip LeBau, the fatal accident took place on May 7th, nearly two months ago! We’re only hearing about it now because of the NHTSA’s investigation. In those seven weeks, tech wunderkind and Tesla founder/CEO Elon Musk has been able to tout the success of SpaceX; used Tesla’s reputational largesse (despite huge financial losses)  to acquire another Musk company, Solar City (less largesse, more losses); and, just two days ago, got to name his favorite animal in a Popular Science puff piece. One wonders how well all that would have gone down, the Solar City deal especially, had the tragic end of Josh Brown made the news when it actually happened.