Wife of Tesla employee killed in perhaps first ‘Full Self-Driving’ crash says they were ‘guinea pigs’

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving is still in beta testing.Niall Carson – PA Images via Getty Images
  • A Tesla employee died in what might’ve been the first death tied to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving tech.
  • Hans von Ohain died in 2022 after his Tesla veered off a mountain road and into a tree.
  • Von Ohain’s wife told The Washington Post she feels her family were “guinea pigs” of the tech.

Hans von Ohain, a Tesla recruiter, died in a car crash on a Colorado mountain road after his Tesla Model 3 veered off the road and barreled into a tree, bursting into flames, according to a new report from The Washington Post.

Erik Rossiter, a friend of Ohain’s who was in the vehicle at the time of the 2022 crash and survived the incident, told first responders Ohain had been using the “auto-drive feature on the Tesla” and the vehicle “just ran straight off the road,” the outlet reported.

If what Rossiter said is true, the incident — which Tesla has so far refused to acknowledge publicly — would be the first known fatality linked to the car company’s full self-driving technology.

While Ohain had been intoxicated at the time of the crash, with a blood alcohol level three times over the legal limit, investigators found the incident was not a typical drunken driving crash. The Post reported there were no skid marks, which would indicate the vehicle had attempted to brake before impact; however, there were “rolling tire marks” at the scene, meaning power was still being deployed to the wheels after the crash.

“Given the crash dynamics and how the vehicle drove off the road with no evidence of a sudden maneuver, that fits with the [driver-assistance] feature” being engaged, the outlet reported Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Robert Madden said.

Madden also described the subsequent fire, which engulfed the car, as one of the “most intense” vehicle fires he had encountered, due largely to the lithium-ion battery cells housed in the undercarriage of the Tesla Ohain was driving.

Ohain’s cause of death was determined to be smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, and he likely would have survived the crash had it not been for the intensity of the flames, per The Post.

Nora Bass, Ohain’s widow, told The Post her husband believed in Elon Musk’s vision for the future of autonomous vehicles so much that he was willing to tolerate the “jerky” experience to help improve Tesla’s self-driving technology.

But since Tesla has so far been silent about Ohain’s death, she told the outlet she feels she and her husband were “just guinea pigs” ironing out the kinks in the tech with a false promise of safety.

“Regardless of how drunk Hans was, Musk has claimed that this car can drive itself and is essentially better than a human,” Bass told The Post. “We were sold a false sense of security.”

Bass and representatives for Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

Tesla’s disclaimer for its current self-driving technology reads: “Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment. While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous.”

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving capability is still in beta testing.

There have been numerous crashes, some fatal, linked to Tesla’s Autopilot technology, which is designed for use on highways, though Tesla has been found not responsible for the crashes.

However, the Full Self-Driving technology — meant to maneuver Tesla vehicles through nearly any scenariohas not been definitively tied to any deaths. The Post reported a Tesla driver behind an eight-car pileup that caused multiple injuries on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2022 told authorities he had been using Full Self-Driving, and Ohain’s death could be the first known fatality associated with the technology.

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