Tesla driver hit, killed motorcyclist in Snohomish County while using autopilot: docs

A Snohomish man has been arrested for vehicular homicide after hitting and killing a motorcyclist while he was on his phone and his Tesla was driving in autopilot mode. 

The crash happened on April 19 around 3:15 p.m. on eastbound SR 522, near Fales Road in Maltby.

The 56-year-old Tesla driver told responding troopers that he was looking down at his phone while he was using the autopilot feature. The "vehicle lurched forward as it accelerated and collided with the motorcycle in front of him," according to court documents. 

The motorcyclist, identified as 28-year-old Jeff Nissen of Stanwood, was pronounced dead at the scene. 

The Tesla driver admitted he had one drink earlier, but field and blood tests indicated that he was not impaired, according to court documents. Detectives determined that the distraction was the cause of the crash. 

Under the frequently asked questions on Tesla's website, one asks: "Do I still need to pay attention while using autopilot?" 

The answer says: 

"Yes. Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving vehicle nor does it make a vehicle autonomous.

Before enabling Autopilot, you must agree to "keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times" and to always "maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle." Once engaged, Autopilot will also deliver an escalating series of visual and audio warnings, reminding you to place your hands on the wheel if insufficient torque is applied. If you repeatedly ignore these warnings, you will be locked out from using Autopilot during that trip.

You can override any of Autopilot’s features at any time by steering, applying the brakes, or using the cruise control stalk to deactivate."

ALSO READ: Tesla drivers have the highest accident rate, study says

The man was arrested and booked into Snohomish County Jail for vehicular homicide DSO (disregard for the safety of others). 

He has since been released on bond. 

"Honestly, just losing my brother is the worst part," said Nissen's sister, Jenessa Fagerlie. "I didn't even imagine it would go this way."

Fagerlie says her brother was turning 29 years old in June, but she and her siblings now have to prepare for his cremation.

She started this GoFundMe to help with his funeral expenses.

"[Jeff] was such a loving person, such a loving uncle. He loved his nieces and nephews," said Fagerlie. "We were hoping someday that he would have kids, but he got taken too soon."

Fagerlie says the last time she saw her big brother in person, he hugged her and said that he loved her.

As she mourns for Nissen, she has this message for everyone that gets on the road: 

"Put your phone away and less distractions, the better," said Fagerlie. "You still need to pay attention to the road."


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