US probes second suspected Tesla Autopilot crash

The view from inside a Tesla vehicle, as it is parked in a showroom in Brooklyn, New York City.
The view from inside a Tesla vehicle, as it is parked in a showroom in Brooklyn, New York City.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • United States highway safety officials said they are investigating a second crash of a Tesla car that might have been operating on the vehicle's Autopilot technology.

A week after a fatal Florida crash came to light involving the luxury electric car's Autopilot hands-free system, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was looking at a non-fatal accident that took place on July 1 in Pennsylvania.

The NHTSA is investigating "to determine whether automated functions were in use at the time of the crash", a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the owner of a Tesla Model X told police the car was using Autopilot when it crashed and rolled over last week. Both the owner and his son escaped injury, police told the newspaper.

Tesla confirmed it had received an electronic data message from the car "indicating a crash event", but said that it had not received driving logs that would confirm whether the self-drive system had been in operation. In a statement on Wednesday, Tesla said it had "no reason to believe that Autopilot had anything to do with this accident" based on the information it had collected so far.

Autopilot can steer the car on highways and brake at dangers its sensors detect. But the Pennsylvania crash added to concerns that the self-drive system is encouraging drivers to take their hands off the wheel for extended periods, even though the car cannot sense and avoid all dangers.

In the Florida accident, which occurred on May 7, preliminary reports indicated that a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla from the opposite side of a divided highway. The car failed to stop and ran under the trailer, destroying the car and killing the driver. "Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied," Tesla said in a statement.

An account given on Wednesday by a witness to the Florida accident seemed to indicate that the Autopilot system continued operating the car at highway speed, even after the vehicle's top was sheared off by the impact.

While the July 1 accident is the second to officially come under NHTSA investigation over the role of Autopilot, the Wall Street Journal said on Wednesday that it had found others that appeared to be tied to the technology. In some, the issue appeared to be that Autopilot does not recognise stopped vehicles, the newspaper said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'US probes second suspected Tesla Autopilot crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe