A Tesla employee and Elon Musk superfan may have been the first person to die in a fine caused by the company's self-driving technology, an investigation suggests.
Hans von Ohain, 33, died in a fiery accident in Colorado in 2022 after his Tesla veered violently off a winding country road.
Although the young father had been drinking alcohol before the fatal accident, investigators expanded their investigation into the death after it became apparent that it was not an ordinary case of drunk driving.
“Regardless of how drunk Hans was, Musk claimed that this car could drive itself and was significantly better than a human,” von Ohain’s widow, Nora Bass, told the Washington Post.
“We were sold a false sense of security.”
Hans von Ohain (left), 33, died in a fiery accident in Colorado in 2022 after his Tesla veered violently off a winding country road
Von Ohain's Tesla Model 3 crashed into a tree as he and a friend returned from a round of golf, killing the young father in a fireball while his passenger narrowly escaped with his life
The vehicle allegedly swerved erratically earlier in the day, something Ohain said “happens every now and then” with his electric car.
Tesla has promoted its “Full Self-Driving” technology as a solution to the 40,000 annual traffic fatalities in the United States.
But the company insists it is still in the testing phase and is constantly learning to deal with new road conditions – including the winding country roads where von Ohain lost his life.
The 33-year-old, a former Marine who was reportedly a passionate fan of his boss Elon Musk, was returning from an afternoon round of golf with a friend when the accident occurred on May 16, 2022.
His passenger, Erik Rossiter, who narrowly escaped the accident with his life, said the car had been driving erratically on its own hours before, causing the recruiter to grab the steering wheel several times.
“The first time it happened, I asked myself, 'Is this normal?'” he recalled being asked by Ohain, describing the trip as “unpleasant.”
“And he was like, 'Yeah, that happens every now and then.'
Von Ohain's Tesla Model 3 crashed into a tree just hours later, killing the young father in a fireball that was captured in horror police surveillance footage.
In a 911 call heard by The Washington Post, Rossiter told 911 that von Ohain was “using an automatic driving feature in the Tesla” that “drove straight off the road.”
Rossiter said he only remembered fragments of the tragedy, including the frightening memory of his friend screaming in his burning car.
In particular, the Full Self-Driving system is different from normal automatic driving and is designed to fully navigate from point A to B – whereas automatic driving is only intended for situations such as on a highway.
Rossiter told investigators he believes they were using fully autonomous driving, which would make Von Ohain's death the first ever caused by the experimental technology.
The 33-year-old, a former Marine and beloved fan of his boss Elon Musk, may be the first person ever to die while using Tesla's Full Self-Driving technology
Von Ohain was described as a “devoted father to his little Ray” (pictured together) and an “amazing husband, dedicated Marine and best friend to many.”
While an autopsy revealed that von Ohain had been drinking, his widow Nora Bass (left) questioned whether Tesla's automated navigation was to blame. “Regardless of how drunk Hans was, Musk claimed that this car could drive itself and was significantly better than a human,” she said. “We were sold a false sense of security”
Since 2021, car manufacturers have been required to report accidents involving driver assistance systems. During this time, over 900 accidents involving Teslas were recorded.
According to a Washington Post analysis, there were at least 40 who were seriously injured or fatally injured.
While most autopilots were involved, von Ohain's accident may have been a rare case of a fully self-driving accident. Another driver reportedly blamed the technology for an eight-car pileup on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2022.
And with Musk touting Teslas as the future of the automotive industry, his new technology has faced challenges – including the recall of over 363,000 vehicles over fears the fully autonomous driving system would cause cars to roll through stop signs.
After von Ohain's horror accident, an autopsy revealed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.26 – more than three times the legal limit.
Although investigators may have concluded that his intoxication impaired his ability to control the car, Colorado State Patrol officers also examined the vehicle's navigation systems.
Tesla has rolled out “Full Self-Driving” in around 400,000 vehicles and tweeted in December that it will only help drivers be safer on the roads because “the more automation technology offered to assist drivers, the safer they are.” Drivers and other road users.”'
The company has publicly insisted that the bugs in the system have not yet been fully fixed as it is in “beta” and is constantly learning.
It also states that drivers must remain in control of their car even when full autonomous driving is activated, and accepts no liability for accidents caused by distracted driving or drunk driving.
However, von Ohain's widow, Nora Bass, said he would use the system almost every time he got behind the wheel and was happy to be able to contribute to his vast collection of data on the roads.
Bass said she never used it because she didn't trust the technology, but her husband was so confident he would even use it when driving their young son, Ray, around.
“It was janky, but we thought it was in the realm of new technology,” Bass said. “We knew the technology needed to learn, and we were ready to be a part of it.”
Tesla employee's widow Nora Bass (right) said the company should accept some blame, saying that using experimental technology to achieve full self-driving “feels like we're just guinea pigs.”
Von Ohain is survived by his young son (pictured together) and his wife
Although a number of lawsuits have been filed against the auto company, including nine that are said to be going to trial next year, von Ohain's widow said she has struggled to find a lawyer willing to take her case.
Although Bass admits that her husband was drunk at the time, she believes Tesla should bear some blame for the accident.
“Regardless of how drunk Hans was, Musk claimed that this car could drive itself and was significantly better than a human,” his bass said. “We were sold a false sense of security.”
“Now it feels like we’re just guinea pigs.”
Bass said her husband was overjoyed to become an employee of Musk, whom he viewed as a “brilliant man” who was moving society forward, particularly by encouraging the expansion of electric cars.
He “had the opportunity to be part of a company that was working on incredibly advanced technology, and we had always thought Elon Musk would be interesting,” Bass said. “Hans was so interested in brilliant minds.”
He reportedly received the full self-driving system early on as a perk for his job as an engineering recruiter and enjoyed it for free while clients shelled out $10,000 for the feature.
But now investigators appear to believe that the technology he was so excited to be a part of may have led to his death.
Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Robert Madden, who led the agency's investigation, said the lithium battery cells may have contributed to the fireball, describing it as one of the “most serious” vehicle fires he has ever seen.
Madden concluded that von Ohain likely would have survived the accident but died when he burned to death in the car. His autopsy revealed the cause of death to be “smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.”
The chief investigator concluded that Von Ohain likely survived the accident but died when he burned to death in the car. His autopsy revealed the cause of death to be “smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.”
The investigator concluded that “Full Self-Driving” may have been the cause of the accident, primarily due to “rolling tire marks” at the accident site, indicating that the engine continued to drive the wheels after hitting the tree.
Since there were no skid marks leading to the tree, von Ohain did not appear to have hit the brakes, Madden said.
“Given the dynamics of the accident and the way the vehicle left the road without any signs of a sudden maneuver, this is consistent with that [driver-assistance] “Feature” is activated, Madden said.
However, it proved difficult to conclusively prove the cause of “full self-driving,” not least because the car’s data was lost in the fireball.
Tesla also reportedly said it could not determine whether driver assistance technology was in use because it “did not receive data over the radio for this incident” – a factor Madden said may be due to the wreck's remote location in the country .