A Tesla driver who recently crashed into a truck while on Autopilot got a citation from the police after Tesla released data logs and the driver admitted that she was looking at her phone during the accident.

Now the NHTSA is also announcing that it will investigate the accident, but only for data gathering as a “special crash.”

Earlier this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk criticized the media for how they reported on the crash.

On Friday last week in Utah, a 28-year-old driver crashed her Model S into the back of fire department truck stopped at a red light. She broke her ankle in the crash.

The aftermath of the crash is pictured above.

At the time, she told the police that the vehicle was on Autopilot and later admitted that she was on her phone.

Tesla has now obtained the data logs from the car, which the South Jordan Police Department shared in a report:

  • The driver engaged Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control on multiple occasions during this drive cycle. She repeatedly cancelled and then re-engaged these features, and regularly adjusted the vehicle’s cruising speed. 
  • Drivers are repeatedly advised Autopilot features do not make Tesla vehicles “autonomous” and that the driver absolutely must remain vigilant with their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and they must be prepared to take any and all action necessary to avoid hazards on the road.
  • The vehicle registered more than a dozen instances of her hands being off the steering wheel in this drive cycle. On two such occasions, she had her hands off the wheel for more than one minute each time and her hands came back on only after a visual alert was provided. Each time she put her hands back on the wheel, she took them back off the wheel after a few seconds.
  • About 1 minute and 22 seconds before the crash, she re-enabled Autosteer and Cruise Control, and then, within two seconds, took her hands off the steering wheel again. She did not touch the steering wheel for the next 80 seconds until the crash happened; this is consistent with her admission that she was looking at her phone at the time. 
  • The vehicle was traveling at about 60 mph when the crash happened. This is the speed the driver selected. 
  • The driver manually pressed the vehicle brake pedal fractions of a second prior to the crash.
  • Contrary to the proper use of Autopilot, the driver did not pay attention to the road at all times, did not keep her hands on the steering wheel, and she used it on a street with no center median and with stoplight controlled intersections. 

A Tesla spokesperson also commented on the accident:

“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. Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents.”

The South Jordan Police Department confirmed today that the driver received a traffic citation for “failure to keep proper lookout.”

The report also confirmed that the NHTSA sent an investigating team to look into the crash, but it will be conducted by the Special Crash Investigations Team, which gathers data on “special crashes” to help the automotive safety community.

Electrek’s Take

It’s now your almost weekly reminder that you need to stay attentive on Autopilot and that rules of the road still apply.

Furthermore, it’s now the fourth investigation into a crash involving a Tesla vehicle in just 2 months, which might be a record.

In this case though, while I doubt it will be reported like that, the NHTSA is not looking into a potential defect with Autopilot, but it is only gathering data from the crash.

With those types of crashes, people often bring up the fact that there’s a defect because the automatic emergency braking (AEB) system didn’t prevent the crash, but it is not designed to stop crashes in all conditions.

AEB is “designed to automatically engage the brakes to reduce the impact of an unavoidable frontal collision with another vehicle” and therefore, drivers should never rely on it to always save them from a crash. For now, nothing beats being vigilant and in control.

It certainly can be improved and Tesla should use data from this crash and try to improve AEB, but until it gets better, people shouldn’t rely on it.

About the Author