NHTSA investigates Tesla's Autopilot tech after fatal accident

Autopilot couldn\'t tell a white truck trailer apart from a brightly lit sky.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a formal investigation into Tesla's oft-hyped Autopilot system following a fatal accident in Florida.

A 40-year old man from Ohio recently died when his 2015 Model S drove under an 18-wheeler on a divided highway. Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident, but the collision wasn't avoided because the software didn't notice the white trailer due to what Tesla calls a "brightly lit sky." The company pointed out that the driver didn't see the trailer, either.

The NHTSA has sent an investigation team to the scene of the accident, according to Bloomberg. The agency stressed that it's still too early to tell whether the Autopilot system is to blame, and whether Tesla needs to issue a recall.

Tesla stated that it's cooperating with the NHTSA. The company also noted in a blog post that Autopilot is disabled by default on every new car that it sells, and that customers who turn it on are asked to acknowledge that they're aware the system is "a new technology and still in a public beta phase." Additionally, drivers are required to stay alert and to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times.

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