Utah Tesla driver had hands off wheel before crash

Galtero Lara
May 17, 2018

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday that it was sending a team to investigate the crash of a Tesla Inc vehicle last week in Utah that occurred while the auto was in Autopilot mode.

The Tesla Model S slammed into the back of a truck at 60 miles per hour.

In January, a Model S hit a parked fire truck on a Southern California freeway, with the firefighters' union saying the driver said Autopilot had been on at the time of the crash.

"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 report read. Police said the Tesla driver, a 28-year-old Lehi woman, admitted to using the autopilot feature at the time of the crash. The family of driver Walter Huang alleged that he had taken the auto in to the dealer several times, and had complained that Autopilot kept steering him toward the same barrier he ended up hitting. 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.

The vehicle registered more than a dozen instances of her hands being off the steering wheel in this drive cycle. Federal officials blamed the truck's driver for failing to yield, on the driver for relying too heavily on Autopilot, and on Elon Musk-led Tesla - the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that Autopilot contributed to the crash by allowing lengthy disengagement from the driving process, on a roadway unsuitable for the semi-autonomous-driving system.

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A Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on what steps the company may take following the incident, but reiterated in a statement that the Tesla autopilot feature does not relieve a driver from the responsibility to stay closely engaged with the vehicle's operation.

Also, the Autopilot technology that monitors whether a driver has their hands on the steering wheel isn't a good way to tell if the driver is paying attention, the NTSB said. She was issued a traffic infraction for failing to keep proper lookout.

Recently, the Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) put the Model 3 through some tests and gave the vehicle a "Superior" rating with respect to front crash avoidance.

NHTSA can order a recall if it finds a defect poses an unreasonable risk to safety.

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