WASHINGTON -- The death of a Tesla Model S owner who crashed while using the vehicle's Autopilot driver assist has put a spotlight on the industry's move toward automated driving systems at a critical juncture.
The crash marked the first known traffic fatality involving an automated driving system, an event viewed by many policymakers, automakers and technology companies as inevitable. But the Tesla incident is certain to influence the discussion of policymakers and the public as the industry pushes deeper into automated and self-driving technologies.
This month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to release new guidelines for the safe deployment of self-driving cars and automated driving technologies. The technology is being heralded by automakers and technology firms such as Google for its potential to ease congestion and reduce accidents.
But Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says that the Tesla incident puts a spotlight on the limitations of current automated driving systems and could prompt NHTSA to re-evaluate its coming guidelines.
"I also hope we're going to see a reassessment of how people treat these systems on a personal level," he said.
In a blog post last week, Tesla said the driver, as well as the vehicle's radar and cameras, failed to detect the white side of a tractor-trailer as it drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S against a hazy sky. The driver, identified by the Florida Highway Patrol as Joshua Brown, died from injuries sustained during the crash.
News of Brown's death last week prompted Consumer Watchdog, a consumer and safety advocacy group, to urge NHTSA to "slow its rush" for guidelines until NHTSA's probe is complete and automakers demonstrate "self-driving" cars are safe.
A day after Brown's death was disclosed, NHTSA released new data showing a 7.7 percent jump in U.S. traffic fatalities to 35,200 in 2015, the highest increase in at least a decade.
Speaking at the National Press Club before Brown's death was announced last week, Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the first such crash would "certainly get a lot of attention, but this train has left the station" and would be unlikely to halt automated cars from hitting the road.