On December 30, 2019 in Gardena California, Kevin George Aziz Riad’s Tesla, which was said to be on autopilot, crashed into another car and killed two people. He was later charged with vehicular manslaughter.
Riad is the first person in the United States to be charged with a felony while using a partially automated driving system.
Two people in a Honda Civic, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez, were killed when Riad was driving his 2016 Tesla Model S on autopilot at an “excessively high rate of speed,” according to authorities.
In October of 2021, Riad, who is a limousine service driver, was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, but these charges only came to the public eye last week.
While these charges are not the first involving an automated vehicle, they are the first to include driver technology widely used, like the Tesla. Approximately 765,000 Teslas are equipped with this technology across the United States.
Riad pleaded not guilty and has not responded to requests to comment from the press.
What does this mean for self-driving car liability?
“It’s a wake-up call for drivers,” said Alain Kornhauser, director of the self-driving car program at Princeton University. “It certainly makes us, all of a sudden, not become so complacent in the use of these things that we forget about the fact that we’re the ones that are responsible — not only for our own safety but for the safety of others.”
This sets a precedent for drivers to remain responsible for auto accidents despite partially automated capabilities.
If Riad is found guilty, “it’s going to send shivers up and down everybody’s spine who has one of these vehicles and realizes, ‘Hey, I’m the one that’s responsible,’” Kornhauser commented. “Just like when I was driving a ’55 Chevy — I’m the one that’s responsible for making sure that it stays between the white lines.”
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