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NHTSA to Probe Tesla Autopilot Crash in Utah

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【Summary】The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday that it was sending a team to investigate the crash of a Tesla Model S in Utah last week.

Eric Walz    May 16, 2018 5:28 PM PT
NHTSA to Probe Tesla Autopilot Crash in Utah

WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday that it was sending a team to investigate the crash of a Tesla Model S in Utah last week.

The driver of the Tesla said the car was in ‘Autopilot' mode at the time of the crash when the car slammed into the back of a fire truck at nearly 60 mph. The driver suffered a broken ankle. It is the third Tesla crash involving Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot system under investigation by the government agency since January.

"The agency has launched its special crash investigations team to gather information on the South Jordan, Utah, crash," the agency said on Wednesday. "NHTSA will take appropriate action based on its review."

Tesla did not immediately comment.

The NHTSA is still investigating a crash in March that involved a Tesla Model X using Autopilot on the 101 Freeway in California.  In that crash the driver was killed. In addition, it is probing the January crash of a Tesla vehicle apparently traveling in Autopilot that also struck a fire truck. Both incidents were in California.

Last week, NHTSA also said it would look into a May 8 Tesla accident in Florida that killed two teenagers and injured another. The Autopilot is not being blamed in that case.

Tesla's Autopilot system uses a suit of cameras and radar providing a 360 degree view around the vehicle and automatically keeps the car centered in the lane and a safe distance from other vehicles. The system is not a fully autonomous and requires human supervision at all times, according to Tesla.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a separate government agency that looks into accidents and makes safety recommendations, has said it is not investigating the Utah crash.

The NTSB is investigating the other three Tesla incidents being looked at by NHTSA, including a August 2017 Tesla battery fire in California, after an owner ran the vehicle into his garage.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said commented on this latest accident and emphasized that the Autopilot is not perfect and that owners need to keep paying attention. Tesla has been claiming that it's safer to drive on Autopilot. Musk added that as the system improves, "It will eventually be significantly safer than human drivers, but it will never be perfect."

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Musk said "It's important to emphasize we'll never be perfect. Nothing in the real world is perfect. But I do think that long term, it (Autopilot) can reduce accidents by a factor of 10. So there are 10 fewer fatalities and tragedies and serious injuries. And that's a really huge difference."

NHTSA can issue a recall if it finds a defect poses an unreasonable risk to safety, something Tesla hopes to avoid.


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