On December 13, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is going to investigate the twelfth Tesla crash that could potentially be tied to the vehicle’s Autopilot feature. The investigation is in response to an incident on December 7, when a “Tesla Model 3 rear-ended a parked police car” on I95 in Norwalk, Connecticut.
In the incident, the Tesla hit a parked police car waiting for a tow truck to help a motorist, and then hit a disabled vehicle and continued to drive. The lights were on and there were flares behind the disabled car. The Tesla driver said the vehicle was on autopilot and that he was checking on his dog in the backseat before the crash. He was issued a misdemeanor summons for reckless driving; no one was seriously injured.
“This crash could’ve been avoided. While autonomous vehicles are an exciting development, the tech is simply not ready to be deployed safely. Congress must act to protect the public from these vehicles until their safety can be assured,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said.
Autopilot has been used in at least three fatal Tesla crashes in the United States since 2016. The NHTSA’s special crash investigation team has inspected 12 incidents where autopilot was thought to be used, two of those cases are finished. One case was a fatal crash in Florida in 2016 where autopilot was used, the other crash autopilot was ruled out.
Tesla stated that autopilot “enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane,” but the vehicle is not autonomous. Tesla and the NHTSA stated that drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel and pay attention while using autopilot. However, “some drivers say they are able to keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods when using the system.” Further, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said “Tesla should disable Autopilot until it installs new safeguards to prevent drivers from evading system limits that could let them fall asleep.”
The Connecticut State Police stated, “[r]egardless of your vehicles capabilities, when operating a vehicle your full attention is required at all times to ensure safe driving.”
Despite these warnings Tesla drivers have been caught asleep at the wheel.