Father of Chinese man killed in Tesla crash files lawsuit over Autopilot system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 8:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 10:58pm

The father of a man killed while driving a Tesla vehicle in China filed a lawsuit against the US carmaker in Beijing, calling for an investigation into whether there was a fault with the Autopilot system that led to the fatal accident, according to state media.

Gao Yaning, 23, died on January 20 after his white Tesla Model S crashed into a road-sweeping vehicle on a highway in the northern province of Hebei, state-run broadcaster China Central Television reported.

A police investigation showed that Gao’s sedan did not take any action to slow down or avoid the road-sweeping vehicle before the collision, according to the television report aired by state media.

Six months after the accident, the victim’s father Gao Jubin brought the case to a court in the Chaoyang district of Beijing, alleging that the accident happened when the Model S sedan was in Autopilot mode and accusing Tesla of exaggerating the function’s capabilities.

“Because of the damage caused by the collision, the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to our servers and we therefore have no way of knowing whether or not Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash,” a Tesla spokesperson said in an email to the Post. “We have tried repeatedly to work with our customer to investigate the cause of the crash, but he has not provided us with any additional information that would allow us to do so.”

Geoff Boyd, head of auto and steel research with CLSA in Hong Kong, said; “Tesla is now trying to improve its software and remind people that they should keep their hands on the wheel when using Autopilot...and it may also be considering playing down the complete self-driving solution going forward.”

Gao’s father demanded 10,000 yuan in compensation from Tesla, while his attorney told state media that the lawsuit was also intended to raise public awareness of potential malfunctions with the Autopilot system and to request Tesla to adopt a “cautious attitude” when promoting its sedans to youth.

Tesla in August scaled back its description of the Autopilot system on its Chinese website and in other advertising materials from “zi dong jia shi” to “zi dong fu zhu jia shi”, which alludes to more of an assisted role in driving.

In the US, Tesla’s semi-autonomous-driving system came under fire after it said in June that a Florida driver died in a crash while the car was in Autopilot mode. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is conducting a probe into the crash.

Chinese road traffic regulations stipulate that the driver of a vehicle should place both hands on the steering wheel and keep a close eye on traffic conditions outside.

The California-based company stated that its Autopilot system introduced more than a year ago, which helps the car change lanes, maintain proper speed and braking to avoid a collision, was not an entirely autonomous feature.

In the wake of a number of crashes, Tesla announced on September 11 a suite of upgrades to its Autopilot software that enhance the radar system, while adding new safety measures that restrict drivers from taking their hands off the steering wheel.

Drivers of Tesla’s Model S in Hong Kong can still enjoy its auto steer and auto lane change functions – two autopiloting features that were suspended by the local Transport Department in October last year. However, there are not yet any specific restrictions on the use of Tesla’s Autopilot function on the mainland.