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Tesla confirms Utah driver engaged autopilot functions before slamming into firetruck

18 May, 2018, 03:28 | Author: Lawrence Cooper
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The driver of the Tesla Model S told police the auto was in Autopilot, a semi-autonomous mode, and that she was staring at her phone when the sedan plowed into the back of a Utah fire department truck stopped at a red light.

The NHTSA's investigation is certainly not the first aimed at a crash involving a Tesla vehicle.

Tesla's Traffic-Aware Cruise Control system is programmed to ignore stationary roadside objects when traveling at highway speed. With respect to the Utah case, the driver has since conceded that she was on her phone leading up to the accident, noting that she was looking up mapping directions and only managed to return her eyes to the road right before the moment of impact.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday that it was sending a team to investigate the crash of a Tesla Inc vehicle last week in Utah that occurred while the auto was in Autopilot mode.

The vehicle registered more than a dozen instances of her hands being off the steering wheel in this drive cycle.

Police told FOX 13 that the woman reported she was using the car's autopilot feature at the time of the crash, which happened on Bangerter Highway and 10400 S around 6:30 p.m. that day.

"When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times", Tesla has repeatedly stressed. South Jordan police reiterated that drivers of semi-autonomous vehicles must remain alert and in control of the vehicle at all times. It marks at least the third investigation into crashes involving the company's cars since March.

Now the NHTSA is also announcing that it will investigate the accident, but only for data gathering as a "special crash".

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The driver used Autopilot on a street with no center median and with stop light-controlled intersections, which is "contrary to the proper use" of the system, according to Tesla's report to police.

She re-enabled Autopilot 1m22s before the crash, let go of the wheel two seconds later and then didn't touch the wheel again before hitting the truck at 97km/h. "Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn't make the auto impervious to all accidents", the spokesperson said.

With those types of crashes, people often bring up the fact that there's a defect because the automatic emergency braking (AEB) system didn't prevent the crash, but it is not created to stop crashes in all conditions.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has repeatedly criticized coverage of the crash, arguing that the media reports disproportionately highlight the dangers faced by Tesla owners. Musk noted that such accidents at such speeds "usually result in severe injury or death".

While Tesla declined to issue an official statement on the NHTSA's involvement, it did confirm that Autopilot was engaged when the crash took place.

NHTSA investigators are also reviewing a Tesla that crashed in January near Los Angeles and fatal crash earlier this month in Florida.

While Teslas may use no gasoline, they draw power from lithium-ion batteries that use chemistry that can ignite if they are damaged. In a later tweet, however, Musk stated that Autopilot does need to get better.