There was another highway crash in August involving one of Tesla’s Model S cars. The vehicle was being driven in autopilot mode on the streets of Beijing at the time. It appears there were no injuries to the driver or others around the crash site. After looking into the incident and at footage from the driver’s dash camera, a Tesla Motors Inc. spokesperson told Law360 that the driver’s hands were not on the wheel when the accident occurred, as is required when the Model S is in autopilot. It should be noted that Tesla is saying that the feature is marketed as an “advanced driver assistance system” and not a fully “self-driving car.”
Tesla says the vehicle in the accident was being driven on a highway in China’s capital where a vehicle parked in the left side shoulder was also straddling the left lane, and that the Tesla was “following closely” behind the car directly in front of it which swerved to avoid the parked car. The Tesla spokesperson said:
The driver of the Tesla, whose hands were not detected on the steering wheel, did not steer to avoid the parked car and instead scraped against its side. As clearly communicated to the driver in the vehicle, autosteer is an assist feature that requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times, to always maintain control and responsibility for the vehicle, and to be prepared to take over at any time.
Tesla’s spokesperson stated that autopilot and features like autosteer are disabled by default in a Model S in order to ensure “that those using the feature do so knowingly and deliberately.” The accident comes about three months after a much more severe crash involving a Model S being test driven in autopilot mode occurred in Florida, resulting in the death of the Tesla test driver.
In that crash, neither the Tesla nor the driver was able to see a 53-foot white tractor-trailer that pulled in front of the car in time to apply the brakes due to a lack of contrast against a bright lit sky. While the fatality is believed to be the first in 130 million miles of autonomous test driving done by Tesla, consumer advocacy groups in July said the crash proves the technology “has no place on public roads,” according to a letter urging the Obama administration to slow the process of self-driving car regulation. The groups also said other, nonfatal Tesla autopilot crashes have come to light since the May accident, and the technology should not be allowed on the road until it’s proven safe through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation into the matter.
As we have reported previously, Consumer Reports magazine has also urged Tesla to entirely disable autopilot technology in its vehicles until additional safety enhancements are developed. About two weeks ago, however, the National Transportation Safety Board said the test driver in the fatal Florida crash was driving almost 10 miles over the speed limit, but made clear that its preliminary report does not present a probable cause for the crash. I fear there will be many more problems with these vehicles before the technology is fully developed.
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