NHTSA investigating ‘violent’ Tesla crash, Autopilot not ruled out yet


A driver rides hands-free in a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S vehicle equipped with Autopilot hardware and software in New York.

Christopher Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating a “violent” crash that involved a Tesla sedan and a tractor trailer late last week in Detroit. Investigators have not yet said whether Tesla’s Autopilot, FSD or FSD beta may have contributed to the crash.

The NHTSA said Monday in a statement, “NHTSA is aware of the violent crash that occurred on March 11 in Detroit involving a Tesla and a tractor trailer. We have launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash.” Reuters previously reported the probe.

The Detroit police department said in an email that the crash happened when a Tesla piloted by “an unknown male driver” hit a semi-truck and “became wedged under the trailer.” A passenger in the car is in critical condition, and the circumstances of the accident still under investigation.

The NHTSA has previously embarked on probes into more than a dozen crashes that were thought to involve Tesla’s advanced driver assist systems.

These systems include Tesla’s standard Autopilot package, and a more advanced option marketed as Full Self-Driving, which is sold today for $10,000. The company’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (or FSD) technology do not make Tesla vehicles safe for operation without a driver at the wheel. Some customers who purchase the FSD option also get access to a “beta” version to try the newest features that are being added to the system before all bugs are worked out.

Investigators have not yet said whether any of these systems were in use during or just before the March 11 crash in Detroit. However, Tesla vehicles with Autopilot have collided with stationary objects and large vehicles, including tractor trailers and fire trucks, on multiple occasions.

A 50-year-old, Jeremy Beren Banner of Lake Worth, Florida, died when his Model 3 on Autopilot struck the side of a semi-trailer in Florida on March 1, 2019, resulting in the roof of his car being sheared off as it passed underneath.

Tesla’s Autopilot system, while it has changed significantly over the years, has been a subject of regulatory scrutiny since 2016 when an owner named Joshua Brown died driving his Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged around Gainsville, Florida. The vehicle also collided with a tractor trailer.

Another federal vehicle safety watchdog that gives recommendations to NHTSA, the National Transportation Safety Board, recently called for clear and stringent rules for automated driving systems at a federal level. The board has pointed to Tesla’s approach to automated driving systems as a reason why stronger safety requirements and clear regulation are needed.



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