United States safety agency sends team to investigate Tesla crash

Cornelia Mascio
Mag 17, 2018

USA safety investigators on Wednesday opened the third active investigation of a Tesla Inc. vehicle that crashed while the driver-assistance system Autopilot was said to be in use.

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.

A woman driving a Tesla that crashed into the back of a fire truck in Utah had frequently taken her hands off the wheel while the auto was on "Autopilot", including at the time of the crash, Tesla told police.

The driver had previously told police that she had engaged the autopilot and was "looking at her phone prior to the collision". The report said she took her hands off the steering wheel "within two seconds" of engaging the system and then did not touch the steering wheel for the next 80 seconds, until the crash happened.

The NHTSA said it "launched its special crash investigations team to gather information on the South Jordan, Utah, crash", and said it "will take appropriate action based on its review".

A Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on what steps the company may take following the incident, but reiterated in a statement that the Tesla autopilot feature does not relieve a driver from the responsibility to stay closely engaged with the vehicle's operation. On two such occasions, the driver had her hands off the wheel for more than one minute each time and her hands came back on only after a visual alert, the Tesla report said. Federal officials blamed the truck's driver for failing to yield, on the driver for relying too heavily on Autopilot, and on Elon Musk-led Tesla - the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that Autopilot contributed to the crash by allowing lengthy disengagement from the driving process, on a roadway unsuitable for the semi-autonomous-driving system.

"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", the spokeswoman said. She was issued a traffic infraction for failing to keep proper lookout.

The vehicle was traveling at about 60 miles per hour when the crash happened. Both incidents were in California. Autopilot was not thought to play a part.

Swiss prosecutors said this week that they were looking into the fatal crash of a Tesla in southern Switzerland.

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