In mid-August, the US traffic safety authority NHTSA initiated a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s autopilot system: After eleven known cases since 2018 in which the company’s electric cars with activated autopilot functions rammed into stationary emergency vehicles despite warning lights, it is to be checked whether there is a systematic problem with the automatic driving assistance. And last weekend there was another accident that fits into this pattern.
Tesla Model 3 rams police car
An official had stopped on the I-4 freeway to help the driver of a broken-down vehicle, reported the Twitter account of the highway police in Florida early on Sunday morning, local time. Then a Tesla that was traveling in “car” mode rammed its car. In the photos, a white Tesla Model 3 with severe front damage can be seen on the right and a badly dented police car in the rear left area with activated blue light.
There is no “auto mode”, as the police wrote on Twitter, at Tesla, but they must have meant the autopilot system – at least that is how it was reported by several media outlets. In fact, the images and descriptions are similar to other accidents where the NHTSA said autopilot features were activated.
Legally speaking Tesla’s autopilot is just an assistance systemso that the person at the wheel always remains responsible – but of course it should still not allow a vehicle standing in the way with warning lights to be rammed. As the NHTSA said when announcing its preliminary investigation in mid-July, it should, among other things, address the question of how Tesla ensures that Driver watch out for the road despite autopilot assistance. The agency also wants to investigate the way in which objects are recognized and how the system reacts to them.
Autopilot investigation and statistics
The possible new autopilot accident could provide further illustrative material. Apart from that, if the information from the police is confirmed, it will be included in a new statistic: as early as the beginning of July the NHTSA introduced an obligation to report accidentsin which a modern driver assistance system such as the Tesla autopilot was active up to 30 seconds before the event. Manufacturers have one day to report this; they have to update the information after ten days. If the autopilot was active in the crash in Florida, it should already be on record.