The family of Joshua Brown, the first person killed in an accident involving a semiautonomous Tesla vehicle in 2016, has released an eloquent statement about the crash, saying blame cannot be fairly placed on either their son or the car’s autonomous feature and that they support Tesla’s continued work in the automated car industry.
“Part of Joshua’s legacy is that his accident drove additional improvements making the new technology even safer. Tesla has done extensive research into the accident and how it might have been prevented,” Brown’s family shared in a statement released by their lawyer and published in full on Jalopnik. “Our family takes solace and pride in the fact that our son is making such a positive impact on future highway safety.”
On May 7, 2016, Joshua Brown, 40, died after his Tesla Model S collided with a tractor-trailer that failed to yield when crossing a divided highway. The Tesla Model S is not fully self-driving, but drivers can take their hands off the wheel from time to time before being prompted to take over full control of the vehicle.
Early reports of the crash blamed Brown for keeping his hands off the wheel despite multiple visual and audio warnings by the car not to do so. The Brown family disputes this claim as well as claims that Joshua was driving over 100 mph and simultaneously watching a Harry Potter film.
The family places blame not on their son or the autonomous feature but rather on chance: “There was a small window of time when neither Joshua nor the Tesla features noticed the truck making the left-hand turn in front of the car.”
The Brown family statement comes as the Department of Transportation released its “2.0” guidelines for self-driving cars Tuesday. (The first version was released in September 2016 by the Obama administration.) The guidelines ask, rather than require, technology companies to voluntarily submit safety information.
According to the Brown family, Joshua was a Tesla enthusiast who “studied and tested that car as a passion.” In that spirit, they wrote:
“Joshua believed, and our family continues to believe, that the new technology going into cars and the move to autonomous driving has already saved many lives. Change always comes with risks, and zero tolerance for deaths would totally stop innovation and improvements.”
Read the Brown family’s full statement below.
On May 7, 2016, Joshua Brown (40) of Canton, Ohio, was killed in a motor vehicle crash in Williston, Florida when his Tesla collided with a semi-tractor trailer that failed to yield when crossing a divided highway.
Josh was a veteran, an exceptional citizen, and a successful entrepreneur. Most importantly, he was a loving son, brother and uncle. Josh served 11 years in the United States Navy. He was a master Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician and achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer. He proudly served as a member of EOD Mobile Unit 3 out of San Diego, CA, and then the Navy’s elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG) out of Dam Neck, VA. Josh was deployed to multiple war zones as part of the special operations groups. He also served at the White House and overseas supporting Secret Service operations.
Joshua loved technology and was a successful entrepreneur. He developed several database applications widely used by the Navy. In 2010, he started his own technology company, Nexu Innovations. The company primarily focused on developing and installing WIFI and surveillance systems, but also developed other technology driven applications.
This fatal and tragic collision was the first documented crash involving the use of driver assist autopilot technology. It generated worldwide media attention. Unfortunately, while some of the reporting was accurate, many media outlets published or broadcast speculation about the crash which was later proven to be false. Many of those accusations were damaging to our son’s reputation and a twist of the knife in the open wound of our family. Since May 7th, 2016, our family has endured reading, listening, and watching as international attention played out on this tragedy. We have intentionally remained silent because we fully believed it was critical to have all the facts before making any public judgments.
Multiple official investigations, evaluations, and reports are now complete. This includes those conducted by the Florida Highway Patrol, Medical Examiners, Tesla, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). The National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) has not yet released its final report, but has made all of their investigations and findings public.
We now feel it is time to try to set the record straight based on the facts. We urge all news organizations to give as much coverage to the truth which has now been confirmed through these investigations as they did to the unverified speculation in the early sensationalized reporting. We hope the truth gains as wide an audience as did those false statements.
Some media falsely claimed that Josh was traveling well over 100 mph. Within a few days of the crash, it was verified Josh was on cruise control (Tesla Autopilot). It was set at 74 mph. Although above the speed limit, it is significantly different than the original extreme speeds which were rumored and repeated by some media outlets.
It was “reported” that Josh was watching a Harry Potter movie at the time of the accident. This movie was purported to be playing either on the large screen in the Tesla console or a portable DVD player. Both claims have been proven untrue. There was no Harry Potter video found in the car and no video device in the vehicle that was capable of playing a movie. Moreover, the eye witness accounts taken from those people who were first on the scene after the crash confirmed there was no movie playing.
It was reported after the NTSB findings were released that Joshua was given 7 reminders to put his hands on the steering wheel prior to the accident. The false implication in the news stories was that Josh continued to ignore these repeated reminders (and keep his hands off the wheel) until he finally struck the truck. In reality, Teslas are designed so that every few minutes if the car does not sense hands on the steering wheel, it provides the driver with a visual reminder. If that is ignored, it then gives an audible reminder. If that is ignored, the car will slow down and stop. Understanding how this technology works, we now know Joshua responded by putting his hands on the steering wheel. Aware of both the vehicle’s abilities and limitations, Joshua followed the prompts of the Tesla with each series of indications received. Otherwise, the Tesla would have automatically slowed and stopped.
Joshua loved his Tesla Model S. He studied and tested that car as a passion. When attending gatherings at the Tesla store, he would become the primary speaker answering questions about the technology and the car’s capabilities/limitations. In the videos Josh posted to YouTube about Tesla, he repeatedly emphasized safety, that the car was NOT autonomous, and that the driver had to pay attention.
We heard numerous times that the car killed our son. That is simply not the case. There was a small window of time when neither Joshua nor the Tesla features noticed the truck making the left-hand turn in front of the car. People die every day in car accidents. Many of those are caused by lack of attention or inability to see the danger. Joshua believed, and our family continues to believe, that the new technology going into cars and the move to autonomous driving has already saved many lives. Change always comes with risks, and zero tolerance for deaths would totally stop innovation and improvements.
Nobody wants tragedy to touch their family, but expecting to identify all limitations of an emerging technology and expecting perfection is not feasible either. When rail systems, metro systems, and personal vehicles (etc.) were constructed, fatalities occurred and we learned from them. Who determines it has been vetted enough? Life is a balancing act. Barring blatant recklessness, finding common ground will always be a debate.
Part of Joshua’s legacy is that his accident drove additional improvements making the new technology even safer. Tesla has done extensive research into the accident and how it might have been prevented. They have made significant investments toward improvements and the Version 8 software release included numerous safety improvements that were a direct result of that research. Tesla continues to release additional features based on lessons learned from Josh’s accident. Our family takes solace and pride in the fact that our son is making such a positive impact on future highway safety.
Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that Josh was driving a Tesla Model S, not a Tesla Model X.