Tesla Model S Crashes While on Autopilot, Leads to Musk Vs. the Media

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
tesla model s crashes while on autopilot leads to musk vs the media

When is an accident not just an accident? When it involves a Tesla, according to Elon Musk. The electric automaker’s CEO took to Twitter to lambaste the media Monday night for reporting on the high-speed collision between a Tesla Model S and a stopped fire truck in Utah last Friday.

It’s true, a collision resulting in minor injuries usually only warrants a brief mention in local media, if that. However, context is key. When it’s revealed that Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system was activated at the time of the collision, sorry, that’s news.

On Monday, police in South Jordan, Utah said the Model S had been under the control of Autopilot when it collided with the rear of a fire truck at a red light. We say “under control,” as the 28-year-old driver claims she was looking at her phone prior to the time of the impact.

The Model S collided with the truck at a speed of 60 mph. According to media reports, the crash occurred during daylight hours, with light rain falling. The driver was treated for a broken foot, while the occupants of the truck emerged unscathed.

Naturally, speculation arose shortly after the crash as to whether Autopilot was involved, and given recent incidents, including two fatalities on U.S. highways (plus one in China), it’s not unwarranted. When the driver revealed she had been using (and misusing) Autopilot, the attention rightly focuses on why the car’s semi-autonomous system did not attempt to avoid the collision. Witnesses claim the vehicle didn’t brake prior to the impact.

“It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage,” tweeted Musk.

The CEO quickly added, “What’s actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60mph and the driver only broke an ankle. An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death.”

Many modern carmakers would disagree, as brakes and airbags and crumple zones and high-strength steel and every other safety aid in existence is also accessible to other companies. In a Twitter exchange with Techmeme, Musk responded to a posted report that claimed he rejected the use of eye-tracking technology (used by Cadillac’s Super Cruise system to monitor driver awareness) in the interest of cost savings. Musk claimed he rejected the technology because it is ineffective.

“According to NHTSA, there was an automotive fatality every 86M miles in 2017 (~40,000 deaths),” he stated. “Tesla was every 320M miles. It’s not possible to be zero, but probability of fatality is much lower in a Tesla. We will be reporting updated safety numbers after each quarter.”

As Bozi Tatarevic quickly pointed out, the average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads is 11.6 years old, which skews the stats further in Musk’s favor. Also, those NHTSA figures seem to include fatal collisions involving motorcycles.

Still, Tesla aficionados (to use a polite term) quickly rushed to Musk’s defense, both before and after the revelation of Autopilot involvement in the Utah crash.

It’s true that the company, after touting the self-driving capabilities of its Autopilot system during its infancy, has taken a more cautious tack in recent years. The company warns drivers to remain aware, to keep their hands on the wheel, and to be ready to respond at any given moment. Under these guidelines, the Utah driver was indeed driving in an unsafe manner. We don’t know for how long her attention was diverted, nor what warnings she may have received from the vehicle.

But the question remains — why didn’t the car’s cameras and radar react to the approaching truck and activate the car’s automatic emergency braking system?

[Sources: NBC, Washington Post] [Images: Tesla, South Jordan Police Department via Associated Press]

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  • Mcs Mcs on May 15, 2018

    Does anyone know if this was the old single camera system or year of the car? I've been looking at the photos, but can't figure it out one way or another. With the older version of "autopilot", I wouldn't be surprised at the collision. I'm curious to see if it's the new version.

    • Mcs Mcs on May 15, 2018

      Taking a closer look at the images, I'm thinking version 1, but I could be wrong. Not a fan of single camera systems.

  • Jalop1991 Jalop1991 on May 15, 2018

    "The driver was treated for a broken foot, while the paint on the truck remained unscathed." Fixed that for you.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?
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