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Crashed Tesla was on “Autopilot,” driver distracted with phone

Photo: South Jordan Police Department

UPDATED

SOUTH JORDAN — Tesla confirms the driver involved in a crash with a Unified Fire Authority mechanic truck had put the car in “Autosteer and Cruise Control mode” about a minute before the accident, confirming the account she had given police at the time.

An updated statement released Wednesday from South Jordan police says Tesla was able to retrieve the data from the car, and its report found, among other things, that the 28-year-old woman from Lehi had taken her hands off the steering wheel more than a dozen times during that particular trip. Specifically, Tesla reported:

  • 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. 

Police say the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is sending its own team to investigate the crash, one of several in recent weeks involving Tesla vehicles.

In earlier reporting, the driver of the Tesla Model S stated to the South Jordan Police that she had been using the “Autopilot” feature but also admitted that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision, a statement released by South Jordan Police Department on Monday said.

That vehicle and a fire department mechanic truck were stopped at a red light at Bangerter Highway and 10400 South when witnesses say the Tesla slammed into the truck.

“Based upon witness information, the driver of the Tesla did not brake or take any action to avoid the collision,” said Sergeant Samuel Winkler.

The driver of the Tesla suffered a broken right ankle. The driver of the Unified Fire vehicle was checked out for possible whiplash, but was not taken to the hospital.

The Tesla’s airbags were activated in the crash, Winkler said Saturday.

Light rain was falling and roads were wet when the crash occurred, police said.

Tesla’s autopilot system uses cameras, radar and computers to keep speed, change lanes and automatically stop vehicles. The company, which is based in Palo Alto, California, and has a huge battery factory in the Reno, Nevada, area, tells drivers the system requires them to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel so they can take control to avoid accidents.

 

The NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating at least two other crashes involving Tesla vehicles. In March, a Tesla Model X SUV crashed on a California highway, killing the driver, and investigators are looking into the performance of the semi-autonomous driving system in that crash.

Contributing: Associated Press, Mary Richards and Becky Bruce