An investigation has been launched in the United States after a man was killed in a car crash while the Tesla Model S he was travelling in was using its "Autopilot" feature.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the Model S vehicle and its Autopilot feature after the fatal crash occurred.

Tesla released a statement saying it was the first known fatality to occur in over 210 million kilometres driven in Autopilot across its fleet of vehicles.

Tesla said the crash occurred when a truck-and-trailer unit crossed a highway perpendicular to the Model S.


"Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.

"The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S," the statement said.

The crash occurred on May 7 in Williston, Florida, Bloomberg reported.

WATCH: A Tesla owner demonstrates how Autopilot works on an Auckland motorway

Source: Sigurd Magnusson

The man killed has been identified as Joshua Brown, 40, of Ohio. He posted a number of Tesla videos on YouTube, including a near-miss collision with a truck.

Tesla said if the Model S had crashed into the back or front of the truck-and-trailer unit the "advanced crash safety system" would have prevented any serious injury.

The company extended its sympathies to the family and friends of the man killed in the crash.

"The customer who died in this crash had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss.

"He was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla's mission."