By on March 4, 2019

tesla model 3

Two fatal Tesla crashes in Florida last week, one of which bears a striking similarity to an earlier 2016 crash, have the NHTSA and NTSB on their toes.

While both federal safety agencies are looking into Friday’s West Delray, Florida collision, which involved a Model 3 and transport truck, only the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is probing the previous Sunday’s Davie, Florida crash. Both groups want to know if Autopilot was turned on at the time of impact.

Running through the list of NHTSA-investigated Tesla crashes would be exhausting. Here’s one example of a recent, non-fatal collision.

The role of the NHTSA is to initiate a recall if a vehicle contains a defect, while the National Transportation Safety Board makes safety recommendations. Investigative teams from both groups hope to discover whether the Model 3 driven by 50-year-old Jeremy Beren Banner had Autopilot’s semi-autonomous features activated when it drove under a semi trailer on Florida’s State Road 7.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, citing a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report, “the tractor-trailer was making a left turn onto a divided highway to head north when the southbound 2018 Tesla Model 3 hit the semi’s driver side, tearing off the Tesla’s roof as it passed under the trailer.”

The roofless Tesla came to rest three-tenths of a mile beyond the trailer, the report states. Banner died at the scene.

While a cause of the crash is not yet known, the collision sounds nearly identical to that which claimed the life of Joshua Brown on a Florida highway in 2016. Brown’s Model S, operating on Autopilot at the time, was apparently confused by the sunlight reflecting off the side of the white trailer and did not register it as an obstacle to be avoided. The Tesla drove under the trailer, losing its roof in the process.

That crash was billed as the first to occur in a “self-driving” car (while not a true autonomous vehicle, Brown’s Model S was driving itself at the time of the accident, even if its in-car technology wasn’t fully up to the task). In its wake, Tesla hardened its safety message, warning drivers to stay alert and ready to intervene when using Autopilot. Many still don’t, preferring to place boundless faith in the company’s driver-assist features.

The first of last week’s fatal Tesla crashes, this one also under investigation by the NHTSA, saw a 2016 Model S leave the road and hit a tree, erupting in flames. The Sun-Sentinel reports witnesses seeing the Tesla speeding before the crash, perhaps hitting 75 to 90 mph. Driver Omar Awan, 48, was an anesthesiologist and father of five.

Like in the later crash, it isn’t known whether Awan’s Tesla was operating in Autopilot mode. Mainly, the NHTSA wants to know more about the post-crash fire, which is something seen in several other serious Tesla crashes. It was reported that Awan’s Tesla reignited multiple times in the tow yard.

[Image: Tesla]

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29 Comments on “Feds Jump in to Investigate Two Fatal Tesla Crashes...”

  • avatar

    What will kill Tesla first? BEVs from established manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, or class action lawsuits?

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I know TTAC has got to sell advertising space, but my goodness, the goofy guy in glasses in the AutoGuide videos is really hard to watch. That guy should stick to radio.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It makes no difference whether Autopilot was activated or not, since these cars are equipped with Level 2 systems.

    As for hitting a tree at 90 mph, show me a car that doesn’t burn.

    Two non-stories here.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d say quite the opposite. Most 90 mph crashed, the vehicle doesn’t burn. Nor reignite multiple times in the tow yard afterwards – what’s left to burn? Cars on fire following a single vehicle crash are a relative rarity – perhaps there are stats somewhere that would repudiate my feeling. But I doubt it.

      Shorted out high capacity lithium ion cells are not nice things, and EVs are full of them. A high speed crash that distorts the battery case can easily cause shorts in the connections between very closely-spaced cells, and cause a fire. Time to stand well back. I would.

      Perhaps the cause was an exploding headliner? Or should we simply refer to Occam’s Razor and go for the likely simplest cause for a fire in a crashed EV?

      • 0 avatar

        “A high speed crash that distorts the battery case can easily cause shorts in the connections between very closely-spaced cells, and cause a fire”: Where’s the data to support that? The connection points are at opposite ends of the cell 70 mm apart. How does that make it easy for them to short? The cells are encased in that gel too. Yeah, a 90 mph collision into a tree might cause some cells to rupture, but I doubt they’d short out.

        Cars on fire following a single-vehicle crash are relatively rare? I don’t seem to have a problem finding plenty searching the net. Gas tanks aren’t going to rupture? Yeah, right.

        • 0 avatar

          “Gas tanks aren’t going to rupture? Yeah, right.”

          Well, gasoline fires might happen but they don’t keep on reigniting once extinguished.

          Decision: Lithium. It keeps on giving.

          • 0 avatar

            @jatz: After a fire the batteries will probably be consumed and not catch fire again. Now, physical damage – that’s another story.

            ICE cars are far better at catching fire though. Ask Audi. You don’t even have to go through the hassle and inconvenience of crashing into a tree at 80 mph.






            I could keep going all night…

  • avatar

    I see a lot of pics on Tweater where the suspension fails on these (termed whompy wheels). The Florida single car crash that caught on fire you could see one of the wheels completely disconnected and across the street from the chassis. Supposedly cast aluminum pieces that fatigue and break. Surprised that Tesla isn’t pushing hard to recall and repair, this is the kind of stuff that makes tort lawyers rich.

    Also it appears that because of difficulty in body repair, insurance rates for collision are going up fast.

    • 0 avatar

      The “Whompy Wheels” argument has always been a red herring; the vast majority of those supposed broken suspensions were not caused by the suspension failing but rather they were broken because of the crash… typically either hitting a pothole or curb at high speed and breaking wheels and other parts.

  • avatar

    Even if trailers in these cases didn’t “register” as objects to be avoided, how did they get there? Why didn’t the truck or trailer’s axles register as they crossed paths with the Teslas, and barely missed?

    • 0 avatar

      If you followed the reports of the original crash by Mr. Brown, there was some discussion that the car actively steered to avoid the wheels, seeing the space between the bogies as an open path.
      Now, whether or not that was true…

      • 0 avatar

        I did and that’s the first I’ve heard. Either way, Autopilot couldn’t have “registered” the tractor part since it’s definitely a good object to avoid, and it obviously crossed its path at very close range, and could’ve easily slowed or stopped directly in its path.

        Yet no braking at all from the Autopilot? I’m just say there’s a lot more to Tesla vs trailer accidents than simple glare or whatever.

        • 0 avatar

          Well, both the fatal crashes happened in Florida, and both victims had the initials J.B. Coincidence? Or life imitating a Black Mirror episode? Who’s to say?

  • avatar

    Aren’t most of the Autopilot features also offered on other manufacturers’ cars; radar cruise, emergency braking, lane-keeping and so forth? Do drivers of those other makes engage them and subsequently crash due to operator inattention? If the answers are yes, does NHTSA and NTSB also investigate those crashes as zealously as it appears they do with Tesla? Is this selective reporting because it involves a Tesla? I’m not poking
    TTAC, I’m genuinely interested as to why this subject appears to exclusively generate interest around a single manufacturer. I haven’t seen a story about a fatal crash in a Subaru because the Eyesight system didn’t cut it.

    • 0 avatar

      All the other automakers with similar tech, features, aren’t calling it “Autopilot” or anything else implying or suggesting the car drives itself in any way, what so ever.

      So when Tesla combined “Autopilot” with sales and marketing that imply and suggest the car can and does drive itself, and to consumers not knowing any better (and likely know little about cars, like doctors, lawyers, PhDs, etc), that’s a recipe for disaster, and where the NTSB and NHTSA might need to look into, not necessarily where “Autopilot” fails and fails to “see”.

    • 0 avatar

      As you can see from DM’s comment, it is highly prejudicial due to the company and the name Tesla chose to give their autonomous technology. The funny thing is that Autopilot is a fully legitimate name but people live under the assumption that the name means “hands off full time”, in other words, ‘full self driving’ from the outset. This has never been true, however, as it has taken autopilot for aircraft roughly 70 years of effort to get where it is and is constantly seeing improvements, but still has to be closely monitored and is, at best, level 4 capable and even then in only the broadest sense; it is incapable of handling any kind of emergency maneuvers in an aircraft outside of climbing or diving to avoid another aircraft.

      Now, I will grant that that many users fall under this same misconception but I will also note that Cadillac, Volvo and others have advertised hands-off operation in their TV commercials and on YouTube. What we don’t hear–almost certainly because they aren’t Tesla–is whether or not those vehicles crash in similar manners; it’s just not “news” because those are old brands who supposedly know better and are more experienced… in a technology that didn’t even exist before Tesla presented it five years ago.

  • avatar

    Seeing that everybody is debating the merits and/or failures of the Tesla’s “Auto-Pilot” mode, this only goes to show that the average human being, once given the means, to disavow themselves of any responsibility. I know that is this forum, some of us do enjoy the driving skills, plus appreciate what technology can do for us to relieve some of our burdens. But on the other hand the people who throw their hands up in the air, figuratively and possibly for real(!), are going to kill it for everybody, because the next step will be to ban all steering, braking and avoidance aids until total vehicle to vehicle communications is a reality and driving by hand will be reserved for the back blocks. The biggest problem in all of these “auto-pilot” accidents, is that the bloody wingnut that attached itself to the steering wheel and the road safety authorities which allows drivers to access a new system of control without having some kind of knowledge and safety check of the operator. Even a machine operator must demonstrate that they are competent to use a new class of equipment and they understand all the new feature.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      This is why drivers must agree to be attentive before enabling Autopilot. They have to push the button, and that absolves Tesla. Not to mention the fact that it’s only a Level 2 system.

      Drivers know what they are getting into.

  • avatar

    Ahhh, pulling out into fast traffic is a very Florida driver move. It happens all the time and Tallahassee’s way of dealing with it is for FLDOT to build never-ending traffic lights while the FHP pretty much runs radar nowhere near the driveways where these rubes blissfully pull out or the intersections where they run stop signs. It’s pretty common knowledge if you live in Florida for a few years, even more so for motorcycle riders.

    I’m not sure if the state of the art of AI, let alone the software in the Tesla autopilot, is capable of dealing with Florida drivers. It’s more than just anticipating bad moves, more like assuming that the next guy has no sense of self-preservation and you need a sort of offensive driving algorithm to deal with it.

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