U.S. auto safety regulators have initiated a special investigation into a tragic accident that occurred in California, involving a 2018 Tesla Model 3. The incident is suspected of being related to the use of advanced driver assistance systems, according to the government agency’s announcement on Tuesday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is conducting the probe in response to a collision that took place on July 5 in South Lake Tahoe. The accident resulted in the unfortunate loss of the 17-year-old driver of a 2013 Subaru Impreza, who collided head-on with the Tesla Model 3. Additionally, a three-month-old passenger in the Tesla was fatally injured and succumbed to their injuries several days later, as reported by the California Highway Patrol.
This is not the first time the U.S. auto safety regulator has looked into Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems. Since 2016, more than three dozen special crash investigations have been launched in cases where systems like Autopilot were suspected of being in use, with 22 reported crash-related deaths until Tuesday.
CEO Elon Musk earlier in April has been compelled to give a deposition in a lawsuit accusing Tesla’s driverless technology of causing a separate and earlier fatal collision, after the carmaker said the chief executive’s public claims regarding autopilot could have been deepfaked.
Autopilot is a feature designed to automatically steer, accelerate, and brake cars within their lane, while enhanced Autopilot can aid in changing lanes on highways. Tesla, which has not yet commented on the investigation, maintains that the system requires active human supervision.
In May, a former Tesla employee allegedly stole approximately 100 GB of data from the firm and gave it to German media outlet Handelsblatt, which released multiple articles detailing sensitive information derived from the leaked data. The so-called “Tesla files” allegedly contain over 2,400 complaints regarding self-accelerations and over 1,500 complaints about brake operations, including 139 examples of unplanned emergency braking and 383 reports of phantom braking caused by false collision warnings. Over 1,000 crashes have occurred.
Documents obtained in April under a Freedom of Information request disclosing email exchanges between Tesla and the California Department of Motor Vehicles show that the automaker said it expects full self-driving (FSD) functionality to “remain largely unchanged in a future, full release to the customer fleet.”
According to a police report on the fatal July crash, the Subaru was traveling at approximately 55 miles per hour, while the Tesla was moving at 45 mph when the collision occurred. The Tesla driver suffered serious injuries, and two other Tesla passengers sustained moderate injuries.
As of now, no charges have been filed, and vehicle and car seat inspections are ongoing, as confirmed by a California Highway Patrol spokesperson.
This particular investigation marks the first new probe into Tesla’s use of driver assistance systems since two were initiated in March. One of the March investigations was related to a fatal crash involving a 2014 Tesla Model S and a fire truck in Contra Costa County, California. In that incident, a Tesla struck one of the fire trucks, and the driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
The second investigation from March involves a 2022 Tesla Model Y that struck and seriously injured a 17-year-old student who had disembarked from a school bus in North Carolina.
NHTSA typically conducts over 100 “special” crash investigations each year, focusing on emerging technologies and potential auto safety issues. These investigations have previously contributed to the development of safety regulations, including those concerning airbags. It is important to note that these special investigations are separate from defect investigations carried out by the agency to determine if safety recalls are necessary.
Earlier this June, NHTSA upgraded its defect probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with the Autopilot driver assistance system and involved in accidents with parked emergency vehicles, including fire trucks. The agency had requested updated responses and current data from Tesla for the ongoing Autopilot investigation, with a deadline set for Wednesday. As of now, Tesla has not provided a response regarding the investigation.
Information for this briefing was found via Reuters and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.