First felony charge against a Tesla driver who killed two while on Autopilot filed in a seminal moment for automated driving
Citing a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) probe that identified a number of Tesla car incidents involving the Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control modes, the U.S. Government started a formal investigation into more than 765,000 Teslas back in August. At the time, the NHTSA singled out 11 crashes with emergency vehicles "where first responders have used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of hazards" when the Teslas were on Autopilot and the feature could have contributed to the crash. Now, however, we have the first felony charge against a Tesla driver involved in a deadly incident while his electric car was in Autopilot mode.
The charges were pressed against Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, whose Tesla Model S ignored a red light and slammed into a Honda Civic, killing its two passengers - Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez - on December 29, 2019. The car was cruising at a significant speed on a Los Angeles highway when it got off the road and passed through an intersection in the Gardena suburb without stopping at the red light. The Lopez family's lawsuit was filed in October 2021 and is now being made public, becoming the first case of felony charges pressed against a driver using a widely available semi-automated driving system like Tesla's Autopilot.
According to the court documents filed by the lawyers, the Tesla "suddenly and unintentionally accelerated to an excessive, unsafe and uncontrollable speed" and then the Autopilot failed to apply the braking system when needed. Both the Lopez and Nieves-Lopez victims' families have filed separate lawsuits against Tesla and the lethal Model S driver. The joint trial will be held in 2023, while the first preliminary hearing of the driver Kevin George Aziz Riad is scheduled for next month, on February 23.