The owner of a Tesla car, the Model S, driving under Autopilot, has been killed following a collision with a truck in Florida.

This is the first fatal accident involving a self-driving vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration in the US opening a preliminary evaluation of the design and performance of the electric vehicle maker’s Autopilot feature on 25 000 Tesla vehicles.

In a statement, Tesla says that the incident is the first known fatality in 130-million miles of Autopilot-enabled driving, a record that compares favourably with human drivers.

Although the accident is tragic, Tesla defends the safety of the system; and points out that drivers are urged to keep their hands on the steering wheel and “be prepared to take over at any time”.

The accident occurred on a four-lane highway when a trailer-tractor driver made a left turn across two lanes of traffic. The Autopilot-driven Model S struck the trailer at a right angle and passed underneath.