NHTSA Investigating Another 'Autopilot' Crash as Tesla Comes Out Swinging at the Media

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Tesla’s bad news week has now spilled over into a second, after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a second investigation into a Tesla crash involving the semi-autonomous Autopilot system.

According to Reuters, the agency wants to know if the Autopilot on the Model X involved in a July 1 rollover was activated at the time of the incident, and if it played any role in the crash. The driver of the Model X, a Detroit-area man who wasn’t seriously injured, claims he was using Autopilot when the vehicle left its lane and hit a guardrail on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

While the NHTSA looks into this crash and the fatal May 7 collision that took the life of a Tesla owner in Florida, the automaker is engaged in a nasty war of words with Fortune magazine over two articles it claims are misleading and false.

In a blog post titled “Misfortune”, Tesla slammed the publication for assuming the automaker knew all of the details of the May 7 crash when it completed its $2 billion stock offering to investors on May 18.

“Tesla and Musk did not disclose the very material fact that a man had died while using an auto-pilot technology that Tesla had marketed vigorously as safe and important to its customers,” the Fortune article stated.

Tesla fired back, claiming that it took some time to access the wrecked vehicle and determine whether Autopilot was engaged at the time of impact:

When Tesla told NHTSA about the accident on May 16th, we had barely started our investigation. Tesla informed NHTSA because it wanted to let NHTSA know about a death that had taken place in one of its vehicles. It was not until May 18th that a Tesla investigator was able to go to Florida to inspect the car and the crash site and pull the complete vehicle logs from the car, and it was not until the last week of May that Tesla was able to finish its review of those logs and complete its investigation

Another Fortune article pointed out discrepancies in CEO Elon Musk’s language concerning the potential risk associated with Autopilot, before and after the crash.

“Musk told Fortune via email that the deadly crash wasn’t ‘material’ information that Tesla investors needed to know,” Fortune stated in its follow-up article.

“After the article appeared on Tuesday, Musk called the article ‘BS’ in a tweet and said that the fact that Tesla’s shares rose on Friday following the accident’s disclosure showed that the accident wasn’t material. But back in early May, Tesla said exactly the opposite of what its founder is saying now in an SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) filing. The company warned investors that a fatal crash related to its autopilot feature, even a single incident, would be a material event to ‘our brand, business, prospects, and operating results.'”

Tesla responded by stating, “news of a statistical inevitability did not materially change any statements previously made about the Autopilot system, its capabilities, or net impact on roadway safety.”

Meanwhile, Fortune just released a statement saying it stands by its reporting. This is the second time in a month that Tesla, and its CEO, have taken journalists to task following incidents involving its vehicles.

A series of posts written by former TTAC editor Edward Neidermeyer on his Daily Kanban blog examined a report of an unusual suspension failure on a Model S and detailed the automaker’s unusual interaction with the owner. Tesla savaged the journalist in a blog post of its own, and raised the specter of an organized conspiracy against the company.

Tesla was heavily criticized after news of the May 7 crash broke, with many safety advocates claiming that the company put owners at risk by allowing beta testing (real-world consumer testing) of its continually updated Autopilot system. Before the crash, the vehicle’s autopilot system failed to recognize and react to the tractor trailer in its path due to sunlight reflecting off the truck’s side.

The automaker already acknowledged why the vehicle didn’t react, but in its latest post, Tesla defends the Autopilot system:

To be clear, this accident was the result of a semi-tractor trailer crossing both lanes of a divided highway in front of an oncoming car. Whether driven under manual or assisted mode, this presented a challenging and unexpected emergency braking scenario for the driver to respond to. In the moments leading up to the collision, there is no evidence to suggest that Autopilot was not operating as designed and as described to users: specifically, as a driver assistance system that maintains a vehicle’s position in lane and adjusts the vehicle’s speed to match surrounding traffic.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 08, 2016

    Was the autopilot actively engaged when the crash occurred or did the driver merely claim it was in order to lay the blame elsewhere and avoid a traffic ticket? Yes, even TTAC is guilty of what Tesla is arguing because the statement, "... investigation into a Tesla crash involving the semi-autonomous Autopilot system." The word 'allegedly' between "crash ... involving" would make a huge difference. "A series of posts written by former TTAC editor Edward Neidermeyer on his Daily Kanban blog examined a report of an unusual suspension failure on a Model S and detailed the automaker’s unusual interaction with the owner. Tesla savaged the journalist in a blog post of its own, and raised the specter of an organized conspiracy against the company." I would agree with Tesla on this point because I have interacted on a financial news blog with an individual who claims to have filed more than 40 different claims with the NHTSA against Tesla on vehicles very specifically not his own against Tesla's suspension and now Autopilot. This individual has a very definite grudge against Tesla and is going out of his way to make Tesla out as the bad guy who doesn't care about anything but money. My question is, why would he be doing this unless Tesla has upset some organization through it's unexpected success?

    • See 1 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 08, 2016

      @FreedMike "OK, assuming there is some kind of conspiracy for argument’s sake, then isn’t Tesla also feeding the fire with half-baked “the car drives itself” tech? I would say it is." Except that Tesla does not advertise that, "the car drives itself." They clearly advertise it as a driver aid that helps the car stay in its own lane, adapt its speed to the traffic ahead of it and, when you use the turn signal, check to ensure the lane is clear before switching lanes and revert back to cruise control mode. It has a number of collision avoidance routines, but they're all centered on the traffic traveling in the same direction and at roughly the same speed as you.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 12, 2016

    Pennsylvania has cited the Model X driver for negligence; placing the entire blame for the crash on the driver.

  • The Oracle This thing got porky quick.
  • Kwi65728132 I'll grant that it's nicely kept but I'm not a fan of the bangle butt designs, and I know better than to buy a used BMW while living anywhere in the world other than in the fatherland where these are as common as any Honda or Toyota is anywhere else.
  • ChristianWimmer When these came out I thought they were hideous: now they’ve grown on me. This one looks pretty nice. Well-maintained, low mileage and some good-looking wheels that aren’t super fancy but not cheap-looking or boring either, they are just right.
  • Aja8888 Someday in the far away future, all cars will look the same, people will be the same color, dogs will be all mixed beyond recognition, and governments will own everything. That car looks like my son's Hyundai Tucson without badges.
  • Tassos Of course, what the hell did you expect? A SERIOUS, BEAUTIFUL car you can ACTUALLY USE AS YOUR DAILY DRIVER???............. NOOOOO, THIS IS TIM WE ARE TALKING ABOUT. SO HE FINDS SOME OBSOLETE POS WHICH IS 22 years old, .............AND HE PURPOSELY MISSES THE BEAUTIFUL MODEL, THE Classical Beauty E39 that ended in 2003. ...........So he uses his column as a WASTEBASKET once again, to throw the first year of BMWs BANGLED 5 series (as in the INFAMOUS CHRIS BANGLE WHO SCREWED UP THE DESIGN ROYALLY). ................................................ As Dr. Evil, Fake Doctor Jill Biden would scream at the top of her voice, so her senile idiot husband could hear her, "Good Job, (Tim)! You answered all the questions and ticked all the boxes!" ..... KEEP UP THE S---Y work, Tim!