SAN FRANCISCO — Data from the computer brain of a Tesla Model S that crashed in Utah last week confirms that the $100,000 sedan was in Autopilot mode, police in South Jordan said Wednesday.
Information recovered by Tesla engineers and shared with South Jordan police confirms many of the details the driver, a 28-year-old woman from Lehi, Utah, shared with investigators after her car slammed into a stopped fire truck at 60 mph. She also said she had been distracted by her phone.
Earlier Wednesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was sending investigators to Utah and would “take appropriate action based on its review.”
Tesla issued a statement saying the company makes it clear Autopilot is not meant to serve as self-driving technology and that drivers must remain engaged with the vehicle at all times.
The Utah driver repeatedly kept her hands off the wheel of her Model S, including for a span of 80 seconds up until the moment of violent impact, the report said.
The May 11 accident appears to be a textbook case of distracted driving exacerbated by technology that, despite providing visual and audio warnings to drivers, is easy for humans to abuse.
Although the driver miraculously only sustained a broken foot, the potential for lethal consequences was present when considering the decimation of the Tesla’s front end.
According to Tesla data shared by South Jordan police in a statement, the driver repeatedly engaged and disengaged Tesla’s Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control on multiple occasions while traveling around suburbs south of Salt Lake City.
During this “drive cycle,” the Model S registered “more than a dozen instances of her hands being off the steering wheel.” On two occasions, the driver had her hands off the wheel for more than a minute each time, reengaging briefly with the steering wheel only after a visual alert from the car.
“About 1 minute and 22 seconds before the crash, she re-enabled Autosteer and Cruise Control, and then, within seconds, took her hands off the steering wheel again,” the police report says. “She did not touch the steering wheel for the next 80 seconds until the crash happened.”
The car was programmed by the driver to travel at 60 mph. The driver finally touched the brake pedal “a second prior to the crash.”
Police said the driver not only failed to abide by the guidelines of Autopilot use but also engaged the system on a street with no center median and with stop lights.
Some automakers, such as Cadillac, have driver assist systems that only function if maps indicate that the vehicle is traveling on a route, typically a highway, that is compatible with a car taking over some driving duties.
The Utah driver was issued a traffic citation for “failure to keep proper lookout” under South Jordan City municipal code.
Both NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board assisted local police in the investigation.
The two federal agencies both are looking into a Tesla Model S crash in Florida that killed two teenagers. The agencies are looking into the fire that resulted from the electric car’s batteries igniting.
The two agencies also continue to investigate a March crash of a Tesla Model X in Mountain View, Calif. The vehicle was in Autopilot mode when it slammed into a concrete barrier that divided a busy Silicon Valley highway.
Tesla said that the driver in the Mountain View crash did not heed repeated warnings from the car to resume control of the vehicle. The driver’s family has retain legal counsel and is contemplating a lawsuit based on previous complaints made by the driver about the Autopilot system’s inability to navigate that specific piece of highway.
The electric car company is in the middle of a huge push to ramp up production of its critical Model 3 sedan, an entry-level vehicle that it hopes will turbocharge electric car sales among a new demographic and fill the companies coffers after years of bleeding cash.
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