Tesla Settles Lawsuit Over Deadly 2018 Autopilot Crash

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Key Takeaways

  • Tesla has settled a lawsuit over a fatal 2018 crash involving Autopilot.
  • Officials said the system didn't give enough warning.
  • The deal comes ahead of a robotaxi announcement in August.

Tesla has settled a lawsuit over a fatal 2018 crash involving the company’s Autopilot driver assistance technology.

The company has agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to the family of Apple engineer Walter Huang, who died when his 2017 Model X steered into a highway median while Autopilot was active.

Attorneys for Huang’s family alleged that Tesla misrepresented its semi-autonomous system, suggesting that drivers could take their hands off the steering wheel. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators found that Huang had been playing a smartphone game around the time of the crash.

Tesla acknowledged the use of Autopilot, but maintained that Huang was responsible for the crash. The company said that the driver ignored “multiple warnings” to pay attention, and that he could have avoided the crash had he been ready to take over. The feature as of 2018 could take over highway driving, but still required hands on the wheel.

NTSB officials found this wasn’t an isolated incident, however. Huang had previously told Tesla about problems with the Model X veering off the highway, including toward the divider he later struck. The investigation also determined that Tesla’s collision warning and emergency braking systems didn’t engage when the car went off-course.

The settlement came shortly before a trial was due to start. It spares Tesla from having to explain Autopilot’s safeguards ahead of an expected robotaxi announcement on August 8th. CEO Elon Musk has teased the possibility of true self-driving cars for years but now appears ready to unveil clearer plans.

US car safety regulators have received hundreds of crash reports where Autopilot was considered a potential factor. There hasn’t always been a definitive link, but the reports have prompted criticism of Tesla’s Autopilot marketing from politicians and others. Some have accused Tesla of misleading customers with the name of its feature, suggesting that drivers didn’t need to be involved.

Tesla won two earlier California trials over Autopilot by claiming that drivers ignored attention warnings. The settlement, however, suggests that the company is willing to avoid trial in some circumstances.