July 7, 2016
Tesla is under investigation by U.S. regulators for a second car crash that may have involved its autopilot system.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed to the media that it is looking into a July 1 crash of a Tesla Model X on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The news comes just days after electric car maker Tesla admitted the NHTSA had opened a preliminary evaluation into the performance of the autopilot system after a fatal crash May 7 involving a Tesla Model S vehicle.
In the July 1 crash, Albert Scaglione’s Model X hit a guard rail “off the right side of the roadway… crossed over the eastbound lanes and hit the concrete median,” the Pennsylvania State Police told the Detroit Free Press.
Both Scaglione and his passenger, son-in-law Tim Yanke, survived the collision. The State Police said Scaglione claims to have activated Tesla’s autopilot before the crash occurred.
Following the news of this second crash of one of its vehicles, Tesla said it did not appear autopilot was involved.
“We received an automated alert from this vehicle on July 1 indicating airbag deployment, but logs containing detailed information on the state of the vehicle controls at the time of the collision were never received,” the company said in the statement. “This is consistent with damage of the severity reported in the press, which can cause the antenna to fail. As we do with all crash events, we immediately reached out to the customer to confirm they were OK and offer support but were unable to reach him. We have since attempted to contact the customer three times by phone without success. Based on the information we have now, we have no reason to believe that autopilot had anything to do with this accident.”
The fatal crash back in May appears to be significantly different than the July collision. Ohio resident Joshua Brown was killed in Williston, Florida when his Model S crashed into the side of a semi-tractor trailer that was crossing both lanes of a divided highway in front of the victim’s oncoming vehicle.
“Whether driven under manual or assisted mode, this presented a challenging and unexpected emergency braking scenario for the driver to respond to,” Tesla said. “In the moments leading up to the collision, there is no evidence to suggest that autopilot was not operating as designed and as described to users: specifically, as a driver assistance system that maintains a vehicle’s position in lane and adjusts the vehicle’s speed to match surrounding traffic.”
Tesla said it was immensely saddened by the death of Brown, who was a Tesla enthusiast.
“He was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission,” the company said in a blog post. “We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”
The fatal crash and now this second collision that may or may not have involved autopilot has whipped up a media frenzy as critics and supporters alike weigh in on self-driving technology.
Publications like Consumer Reports and Consumer Watchdog have called for caution where such technology is concerned.
“This is a suite of technology still in its beta stages and is not yet capable of complete autonomous driving,” Consumer Reports director of auto testing Jake Fisher said. “This accident calls into question the wisdom of rolling out unproven technology to the public.”
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber, in a press release, also urged caution.
“We hope this is a wake-up call to federal regulators that we still don’t know enough about the safety of self-driving cars to be rushing them to the road,” Balber said.
Other publications, however, pointed out that autopilot could become a convenient scapegoat for driver error because, at this point, Tesla disables autopilot by default and requires customers to acknowledge that they are expected to be in control of their vehicles at all times.
Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.