Tesla driver in the US faces manslaughter trial for Autopilot smash that killed two

Tesla AutoPilot
The US road safety agency is also investigating another crash that left people dead. Photo credit: Getty Images

A Tesla driver in the United States who crashed while operating on autopilot, killing two people, will stand trial for vehicular manslaughter.

A Los Angeles county judge said there was enough evidence for the trial to proceed against Model S driver Kevin Riad over the 2019 crash, according to Fox News.

The car left the motorway and drove through a red light in Gardena, California, according to police. It was travelling at 119 km/h when it smashed into a Honda Civic.

The Orange County Register reported that the Civic's passengers, Gilberto Lopez and Maria Nieves-Lopez, were on their first date that night, but died as a result of the crash.

According to prosecutors, crash data showed no brakes had been applied in the six minutes prior to the smash.

Sensors indicated Riad had a hand on the steering wheel when the crash occurred, a Tesla engineer testified, but both Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control were also activated.

News of the trial came after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was investigating a Tesla crash earlier this month which killed three people.

The investigation will determine whether the car was operating on Autopilot, full self-driving (FSD) or in control of the driver, it said.

The NHTSA has been investigating Elon Musk's electric vehicle company for some time now over the Autopilot system.

Despite the name, drivers are still required to agree to keep their hands on the wheel at all times as it doesn't take full control of the car.

There have been a number of incidents in the US where Teslas have struck stationary emergency vehicles while in Autopilot mode.

The agency had previously raised questions over why Tesla had failed to recall vehicles to perform a system update, which was a legal requirement. It also raised concerns about an update that allowed drivers to play games on the car's screen while driving.

FSD software costs Tesla drivers an extra US$12,000 on top of the price of the car. Musk has promised it will deliver fully autonomous driving at some point.

The NHTSA had also previously raised concerns that users in Tesla's FSD beta program had to sign NDAs that prevented sharing any information that portrayed the software negatively.

"Given that NHTSA relies on reports from consumers as an important source of information in evaluating potential safety defects, any agreement that may prevent or dissuade participants in the early access beta release program from reporting safety concerns to NHTSA is unacceptable," the agency wrote.

"Moreover, even limitations on sharing certain information publicly adversely impacts NHTSA's ability to obtain information relevant to safety."

The controversial Musk had previously used his Twitter account to take aim at one of the safety agency's staff, saying Missy Cummings was "extremely biased" against the company.