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Tesla’s Autopilot Heads to Trial

The EV maker is facing litigation over a fatal crash that will decide whether its marketing overstates the capabilities of automated driving systems.

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Ten seconds before Jeremy Banner’s Tesla Model 3 plowed into the underbelly of a tractor-trailer, he switched on Autopilot. The crash killed the father of three when the top of his car was sheared off, so there’s no way to know exactly what happened that Friday in March three years ago. But an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that Banner probably didn’t see the truck crossing a two-lane Florida highway on his way to work. Tesla’s driver assistance feature apparently didn’t see it either. At least not in time to save the 50-year-old’s life.

A court in Palm Beach County has set a February date for a jury to hear testimony on who was at fault, the first of potentially dozens of Autopilot collision trials. Until then, expect the Twittersphere to light up with passionate arguments over a question that’s been debated for years: Does the very name Autopilot lull drivers into a false sense of security that their cars will drive themselves? The trial offers “one of those watershed moments when we have lots of public attention on a verdict, if the jury is sympathetic to the driver and wants to send a message to Tesla,” says Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina.