Last week, we reported on a Model X owner suing Tesla after he crashed his vehicle through his garage and into his living room. Ji Chang Son claims that when pulling into his garage, his Model X accelerated autonomously and caused the crash.
The company claimed that Son, a singer and actor in South Korea, threatened to use his celebrity status in the country to affect the company right when it is about to launch in the market unless Tesla would make a financial payment and admit that the accident was the fault of the vehicle.
The actor didn’t deny that and it looks like he actually followed through with the threat since he has been on a media blitz in Korea since filing the lawsuit in California last Friday.
Tesla pulled the data logs from the vehicle and the company says that it shows the driver pressed the accelerator pedal to 100% during the accident. While damages to the car and the house were significant, both Son and his passenger were not injured.
Son claims that Tesla refused to show him the logs and to prove that the accelerator was pressed. He wrote in a Facebook post:
I asked to see the information but was refused. The person kept talking to someone at HQ and whenever I tried to approach him, he would tell me not to and continued to act in an incomprehensible manner.
A source familiar with the case at Tesla told Electrek that the company did provide the data to Son after an investigation and reaffirms that it clearly shows that the cause of the accident was the accelerator pedal being floored.
Son seems to think that Tesla is accusing him of intentionally pressing on the accelerator and crashing into his home. In the same Facebook post, he wrote:
“How could they make me out to be such a shameless person to put my life on the line that way?”
It’s something that he reemphasized in interviews with Korean media:
“Who would be crazy enough to press down on the accelerator pedal that hard when entering their garage? They said there was a problem with me, not the car.“
The actor gave several interviews to national media outlets in Korea and reportedly reached out to the media himself.
At first glance, he has a point. Who would be crazy enough to press down on the accelerator pedal that hard when entering their garage? But it’s not what Tesla, or anyone for that matter, is claiming.
All Tesla knows “unambiguously”, as it was described to Electrek, is that the pedal was pressed 100% as shown by the two redundant sensors located on the accelerator pedal that monitor the pedal’s physical position.
The company is not suggesting that Son intentionally pressed the pedal, but that he mistakenly pressed it instead of the brake pedal since he was about to come to a complete stop in his garage.
It’s actually a very common accident. 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.
Since Tesla’s vehicles are all equipped with sensors and controls to autonomously accelerate, decelerate and steer, it’s definitely easier to jump to the conclusion that the vehicle acted on its own than to admit you pressed the wrong pedal. It’s certainly not the first time that Tesla’s Autopilot has been blamed for similar accidents.
But we also remember similar accidents where the driver actually admitted that it was a user mistake.
Tesla has been trying to implement measures to mitigate the impact of pedal errors, but doing so also means to override inputs from the driver, which is always a tricky thing to do.
In a statement in response to the lawsuit that Son has filed, Tesla explained some of the features in place to attempt to prevent “pedal misapplication”:
“For example, the vehicle will cut motor torque in cases where the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal are simultaneously pressed. Furthermore, current Tesla software uses the Autopilot sensor suite to distinguish potential pedal misapplication events from normal cases when a driver intentionally presses the accelerator pedal. In cases of unambiguous pedal misapplication, the vehicle cuts torque to mitigate the effects of the driver’s error.”
Those features can help, but the trick is still the need for certainty that the driver doesn’t need to accelerate in a situation where the vehicle can cut torque.
The accident also brings up the interesting concept of having detailed logs in vehicles. The fact that Tesla’s vehicles are equipped with several sensors and that they are always connected makes it relatively easy for the company to pull the logs and understand what caused an accident.
The automaker can more swiftly conduct investigations and implement potential solutions.
Of course, it’s a problem when the persons involved, like Son in this case, don’t believe that the logs are accurate. It’s not the first time it happened and in one case, a third-party was able to review of the vehicle logs and confirmed Tesla’s version of the accident.
Nonetheless, Son is still launched in a media blitz in South Korea asserting that his Model X accelerated on its own and caused the accident.
As Tesla is about to start deliveries of the Model S and X in South Korea in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how the company’s launch in the important Asian market will play out after the bad publicity.