Tesla faces one other NHTSA investigation following a deadly driverless accident in Texas
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, unveils a new all-wheel drive version of the Model S on October 9, 2014 in Hawthorne, California.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had “immediately” opened another investigation into Tesla after a fatal crash occurred over the weekend in Spring, Texas.
Two men died in the crash on Saturday night and, according to several press interviews with local police, no one was apparently behind the wheel.
The electric vehicle, a Tesla 2019 Model S, hit a tree and went up in flames. One person was in the passenger seat and another was in the passenger seat of the vehicle.
Another federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, said it is also sending two investigators to Texas and will focus its analysis on the operation of the vehicle and the post-accident fire.
The police and federal vehicle safety authorities have not yet completed their extensive investigations. A preliminary report is not final and questions remain as to whether Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems were used before or during the accident.
The company’s systems are marketed under the brand names Autopilot, Full Self-Driving or Full Self-Driving Beta. Tesla includes the autopilot standard in all newer vehicles. And it sells Full Self-Driving for $ 10,000 with a subscription option in the works.
Autopilot and full self-driving technology make Tesla vehicles unsafe to operate without a driver at the wheel. Some customers who purchase the FSD option also get access to a “beta” version to test the latest features added to the system on public roads before all bugs are fixed.
The company says in its user manuals that drivers are only allowed to use the autopilot and FSD under “active supervision”.
At the same time, CEO Elon Musk advertises on Twitter, where he has 50 million followers, and in media appearances as safe and continuously improved.
On an episode of the popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast in February, Musk and Rogan discussed how Tesla drivers could play chess on their cars’ touchscreens while driving when they shouldn’t. (You need to press a button that says you are the passenger.)
On the same episode, Musk also said, “I think autopilot gets good enough that you don’t have to drive most of the time unless you really want to.”
The great hope for autonomous and automated driving systems in today’s development is that – like seat belts, automated emergency braking, airbags and other technologies that have become standard – they will prevent accidents or reduce their effects. According to NHTSA data, there were 36,096 deaths in road traffic accidents involving motor vehicles in 2019.
To date, the NHTSA has initiated around 28 investigations into accidents involving Tesla vehicles, of which around 24 are active today.
The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency that investigates accidents to determine the factors that contribute, has urged the NHTSA to impose stringent safety standards on automated vehicle technology. The NTSB called on Tesla in its recommendations for poor safety practices and expressed frustration at the reluctance of the NHTSA to take action after several fatal accidents involving Uber and Tesla vehicles.
Fatal accidents involving Tesla autopilots killed Joshua Brown in Florida, Walter Huang in California, and Jeremy Banner in Florida, in addition to the two men who died in Texas. An autopilot accident also killed Tesla driver Gao Yaning in China, and there was an autopilot accident in Japan that killed a pedestrian, Yoshihiro Umeda.
Here is the full statement an NHTSA spokesperson sent CNBC about the Spring, Texas crash:
“NHTSA is aware of the tragic accident involving a Tesla vehicle outside of Houston, Texas. NHTSA immediately set up a dedicated crash investigation team to investigate the accident. We are actively working with local law enforcement and Tesla to find out more about the details about the vehicle will crash and will take appropriate action when we have more information. “
Tesla shares fell more than 4% in the late afternoon on Monday.