United States authorities have officially opened thirty investigations regarding Tesla crashes since 2016. Over the past five years there have been ten deaths involved where the automated driving assistance system could have supposedly been in use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already released a list of the thirty crashes being reviewed under their special crash investigation program. Out of the thirty total investigations, the NHTSA has released their final rulings on only five cases. Three of the five cases that have been concluded have ruled out the use of the autopilot feature and the NHTSA have published reports on the remaining two. Previously, the NHTSA has stated that they have opened several special crash investigations into Tesla crashes before but over twenty-four cases are still pending. Although, it has been confirmed through investigators that Tesla’s autopilot feature was being used in at least three fatal crashes since 2016. A spreadsheet also shows a February 2019 Tesla crash where the use of autopilot has been undetermined. Over just the past four months, the NHTSA has opened eight investigations regarding Tesla crashes.
In early April, there was a fatal Tesla crash in a Houston suburb that made national headlines as it started mass discussion about the autopilot feature. The Tesla crashed into a tree and sparked a massive fire that took nearly four hours and 30,000 gallons of water to put out. Two men were found dead on the scene, but nobody was found in the driver’s seat. Despite there being no official reports saying that the autopilot feature was in use, this accident raised many questions about autopilot and Teslas in general. According to a Harris County official, investigators were “100% sure” that no one was in the driver’s seat of the car.
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk was quick to come out and dispute the reports, and went as far as to say that the allegations “are completely false.” Musk has tried to provide evidence to try and support his claim, and has gone back and found data logs that show the Tesla involved in the crash did not have full self driving capabilities. There is also a standard auto pilot feature integrated in every Tesla, although that requires direct lane lines for it to turn on in which this street did not have. Lars Moravy, Tesla’s Vice President of vehicle engineering had worked with the National Transportation Safety Board and with local authorities to conduct a study regarding the crash. They were able to conclude that auto-steering “did not and could not have engaged on the road condition it was designed.” Moravy also added that the steering wheel was found deformed which would lead to the assumption that someone was in the driver’s seat, and all seatbelts post-crash were also found unbuckled. Moravy stated that they were not able to recover the SD card at the time of impact but local authorities are still working on it. Whether some sort of automated driving system was on or not during the crash, these specific wrecks are the reason why the Senate Commerce Committee voted against giving self-driving cars significantly more leeway. Maria Cantwell, the chair of the committee, called out Tesla’s autopilot feature specifically stating that it “seems like every other week” where a Tesla crash makes the news because it was on autopilot. Both the National Transportation Safety Board along with the NHTSA have called on Tesla and made it clear to develop better ways to make sure drivers are still paying attention to the road at all times.
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