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More bad news for self-driving vehicle tech

According to a recent article in the Charlotte Observer, Tesla says that one of its vehicles in a fatal crash last week in California was on autopilot. The news is the latest setback for companies developing driverless car technologies.

The company said that the driver did not have his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash in which he was killed. The vehicle had issued several warnings to the driver, Tesla said. Proponents of autonomous vehicle technologies say that driverless cars have the potential to eliminate motor vehicle crashes caused by driver error such as distracted driving, drunken driving and more.

Tesla says its Autopilot system can maintain speed, change lanes and park the vehicle, but that it requires drivers to watch the road and keep their hands on their steering wheels in order to take control when needed.

The electric car company says in the fatal California crash, the 38-year-old Apple software engineer did not act to stop his SUV from hitting a concrete lane divider. Photos of the aftermath showed a demolished, scorched Model X (it caught fire after the violent crash): front end crushed, hood torn off and front wheels scattered on the highway.

The company noted that the lane divider was missing a safety shield that could have reduced the vehicle's impact.

Last month, a female pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle.

It is far from clear when self-driving vehicles will roam Charlotte's streets, but we hope that by then the technology will have been refined so that all of us are safer then than we are today.

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