This story is not about the Tesla Autopilot. I want to be clear because the highway accidents involving Tesla vehicles with the Autopilot enabled are a completely different matter and unrelated to these claims of sudden unintended acceleration.
Earlier this week, I reported on a Tesla Model S crashing into a gym and driver claiming the vehicle accelerated on its own. Since the story broke, there have been several more claims of ‘sudden unintended acceleration’ events in Tesla vehicles lately. We looked into a few of them and with the help of an independent review of the logs in one case, we can bring you more information on this situation.
The first case that was brought to our attention is the one pictured above, which happened in Irvine, California, back in June.
A Tesla Model X owner, Puzant Ozbag, says that his wife was about to park the all-electric SUV in a parking lot when the vehicle accelerated “on its own” and crashed into a building, according to his wife. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
When reporting on the accident and Ozbag’s claim, we reached out to Tesla and they reviewed the vehicle’s logs. A spokesperson told us that the logs show that the vehicle’s response was “consistent with the driver’s actions” and that the accelerator pedal was “abruptly increased to 100%.”
Since the crash of Ozbag’s Model X, we have tracked down several other Tesla owners claiming similar events of autonomous acceleration causing crashes.
On July 8, a few weeks after the accident in Irvine, a Model X crashed into a curb in a parking lot at the Creekwood Dog Park in Bradenton, Florida. The crash resulted in severe damage on the front bumper, fender and wheel on the passenger side:
Tesla reviewed the logs and told us that the accident was the result of the driver pressing on the accelerator pedal.
Then another similar accident happened just last week in Lexington, Massachusetts, where a Model X crashed into a garage door causing damage to the vehicle, the garage and even another car parked in the garage.
Here’s a GIF from the security camera at the propriety:
Again, the owner told Electrek that the vehicle accelerated on its own, but Tesla reviewed the logs and told us that it showed the accelerator pedal was pressed.
There were several other claims made by owners in similar accidents and a Tesla spokesperson told us that each time it was brought to the company’s attention, they could verify that it wasn’t an autonomous acceleration:
“Tesla’s cars do not accelerate without the driver instructing it to do so. In every situation where we have received a customer claim about this, the vehicle’s diagnostic logs have confirmed that the acceleration was the result of the driver pressing the accelerator pedal.”
In some cases, the Tesla owners are challenging the veracity of what Tesla is saying about the logs and in other cases, they are saying that the sensors detecting that the pedal has been pressed was faulty, which they say could have resulted in a misinterpretation of the logs.
The latter isn’t likely since there are two redundant sensors located on the accelerator pedal that monitor the pedal’s physical position.
As for the former, Tesla isn’t publishing the logs so we have to take them to their word or believe they are lying. It creates an unfortunate ‘he said, she said’ type of situation.
Though in one case, the case of Ozbag’s Model X in California back in June, we were actually able to verify independently the situation surrounding an accident based on the logs.
That’s because Jason Hughes, aka wk057, bought Ozbag’s Model X and it is now sitting in his garage. It’s not Hughes’ first salvaged Tesla. He created a massive energy storage system for his off-grid residential solar installation using battery packs from salvaged Model S sedans.
More recently, he has been building a 1,000hp electric car using a Tesla drivetrain, again from salvaged vehicles, and Chevy Volt batteries.
Through his latest project, Hughes found out that Tesla Autopilot’s camera stores footage after a crash like a dashcam. So of course, he did the same trick with Ozbag’s Model X and sure enough, he found the footage of the crash.
Here’s a GIF he sent us:
As you can see, the footage is consistent with pictures of the aftermath of the accident from back in June:
Admittedly, Hughes says that he doesn’t have access to the full plain text data logs, but he can still decipher a few things from Tesla’s proprietary logging format and can see that the accelerator pedal tracker shows an almost complete press while the brake pedal was left untouched.
It’s in line with what Tesla disclosed about the accident based on the logs.
In the case of Ozbag’s Model X, it’s not a ‘he said, she said’ situation since Hughes’ review of the logs is completely independent of Tesla.
While Hughes’ review cannot be extrapolated to the other cases, it gives added credibility to Tesla for the conspiracy theorists and shorts who would question the publicly listed company’s review of the situation.
Additionally, it is interesting that in every single one of the accidents that we researched, the alleged sudden unintended acceleration events occurred at a moment when the driver would have been about to press on the brake pedal to bring the vehicle to a complete stop.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 16,000 crashes occurring each year in the US due to drivers mistaking the accelerator for the brake pedal.
While everything points toward this type of error being the cause of those recent accidents, it is still strange that so many of them happened in the Model X in such a short period of time. There are over 250 million cars in the US. If those accidents happen about 16,000 times per year, that’s about 1 for ~15,000 vehicles.
We were able to confirm four separate instances of this type of accident with the Model X over a period of four months and while Tesla didn’t disclose how many Model X were in use in the US during that period, it’s safe to assume that it was fewer than 15,000.
The Model X could very well be more prone to accidents caused by pedal errors, but there are some very obvious explanations. For example, it doesn’t accelerate like an SUV. If you are coming from driving a gas-powered SUV and now driving a Model X with a 0 to 60 in less than 3 seconds, it’s a different world.
If there are approximately 16,000 crashes due to pedal errors each year, it’s safe to assume that there are many more pedal errors, but they don’t lead to a crash. Due to its ‘ludicrous’ acceleration, the Model X is less forgiving in case of a pedal error.
There’s also the possibility of the lack of creep due to the electric motor and the regenerative braking taking care of most of the deceleration could be contributing to the confusion. In several of the cases, the drivers were new to Tesla vehicles and/or weren’t’ the owners.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.
Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe to the podcast.