By on January 9, 2020

Cars crash all the time, but vehicles believed to be piloted by an advanced driver-assist system at the time of the collision earn themselves an investigation from a federal agency. Such is the case with the latest Tesla crash, with occurred in Indiana on December 29th.

The fatal collision between a Model 3 and a parked fire truck is the third such investigation opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a month.

If you’ve followed previous NHTSA crash probes (this is the 14th involving Tesla), you’ll know that parked first responder vehicles seem to be a common target for the brand’s electric lineup. They’re also unlikely ones, tipping off the agency that the driver’s concentration may not have been on the road ahead.

As reported by Reuters, investigators will try and determine whether the Model 3’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system was activated at the time of the collision. The Associated Press reports that the crash took place on Interstate 70 near Terre Haute, killing a passenger riding in the Tesla.

Just days ago, NHTSA dispatched a team of investigators to examine the crash of a Model S in Gardena, California. That vehicle reportedly ran a red light and collided with the rear of a Honda Civic, killing two occupants in the other vehicle. The Indiana and California crashes occurred on the same day.

Last month, a 12th file was opened as the agency looked into a collision between a Model 3 and a parked police cruiser, which had its lights activated at the time, on Interstate 95 near Norwalk, Connecticut.

As stated multiple times before on these digital pages, Tesla warms drivers from taking their attention from the road and their hands from the wheel when Autopilot is engaged. The automaker wasn’t always so adamant about this, and drivers continue to post videos to YouTube showing just how much (misplaced) trust they have in the system.

[Image: Aleksei Potov/Shutterstock]

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47 Comments on “Third in a Month: NHTSA Opens Probe Following Tesla Crash...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    Charles Darwin approves of this story.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Because this time it was a Teslan who paid the price instead of an innocent bystander.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Over-promised and over-marketed technology meets humans who have no business piloting a used Schwinn on a road, let alone a car.

    Autopilot on an aircraft will happily, blissfully, and blinding fly you into a mountain, into the ground, into another airplane, off course until you run out of fuel…

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      Furthermore, humans don’t do well monitoring supposedly automatic systems on the off chance they might fail someday. They either get distracted or fall asleep. To keep them engaged, humans need a mentally stimulating workload.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Beta level software has no place being on the street let alone being sold as a self driving system.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Even though the drivers are ultimately to blame, I agree with you.

      It’s also wrong for Tesla to be pre-selling “full autonomy” for the last couple years, with no functional (let alone DOT approved) product on the horizon. I wonder how much they’ll have to refund, and/or settle in lawsuits for a product that’s not actually available?

  • avatar
    JMII

    Why do they keep hitting firetrucks and cop cars? Clearly they has to be a connection. Do flashing lights blind the sensors?

  • avatar
    incautious

    Wonder where the owners of Tesla’s get the idea they can drive with no hands. Oh wait the dope smoking CEO of tesla on 60 minuets with Leslie Stahl. Nothing like putting innocent lives at risk beta testing these POS

  • avatar

    I can’t believe these crashes haven’t caused a recall and system revision to delete AutoPilot.

    It is not ready for the public, who over-trusts every system provided to them out of laziness and stupidity. How many more innocent people have to die to prove it?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Makes me want to go to fec.gov and figure out whose pockets Elon Musk is lining.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “How many more innocent people have to die to prove it?”

      Just to be clear, the innocent people are everyone *except* for the person in the driver’s seat of the car.

      “It is not ready for the public, who over-trusts every system provided to them out of laziness and stupidity.”

      I agree with you here.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    About 100 people in the U.S. will die in motor vehicle crashes today. And yesterday. And the day before that. (Most of them not in Teslas, most of them not hit by Teslas.)

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure that makes it okay.

    • 0 avatar
      Lokki

      “ About 100 people in the U.S. will die in motor vehicle crashes today. And yesterday. And the day before that. (Most of them not in Teslas, most of them not hit by Teslas.)”

      However, this isn’t about “Teslas” This is about a single system (which happen to be in Teslas) that has caused a number of crashes and three within a month. The system may not even be defective per se, but causes drivers to become inattentive, resulting in accidents.

      I think that is worth a look. These systems have only recently become common and so the total number of incidents has been comparatively low. On a per vehicle basis though, and especially on a per vehicle with the system in operation the percentage takes a sharp increase.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    SAE Level 2 autonomous systems should be outlawed.

    Only the drivers will be found to be at fault, since they all ‘agreed’ to remain attentive.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Exactly, Tesla will get off the hook because someone clicked on “I Agree.” They shouldn’t be off the hook, though – they’re clearly marketing this as a self-driving car.

      The unfortunate thing is that I *like* Teslas – a lot. I’d strongly consider a Model 3 and opt out of Autopilot.

      But I really don’t like how they’re handling this tech. It’s just wrong.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Now that’s an interesting thought. Maybe the sensors are getting dazzled.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    To have Autopilot “deactivated” (by NHTSA) would be no different than deactivating “traction nannies”, like “stability control” if it was somehow over-promised (by one automaker) and drivers of said vehicles went way beyond its capabilities because of that automaker’s or sales-staff’s wild claims while marketing/selling.

    In this case, it is widely believed Teslas are “self driving” by the general pop, the interwebs, and wives-tales perhaps.

    So wouldn’t it be best to recall the entire cars (and a “stop sale”) until there’s a solution?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    In-place reply inoperative again.

    Corey, I didn’t say it’s okay. Let’s say one a day is related to Tesla and 99 a day aren’t. Are you okay with the 99?

    On the topic of sensors being dazzled: On a couple of road trips recently I drove by a long string of very tall pine trees with the sun low in the sky off to the right-hand side. The effect on the roadway was rather disconcerting – rapidly flashing lines across the entire road surface. I wondered if most camera/sensor systems would have an issue. (It’s not a situation I see at the ‘testing grounds’ I’m familiar with.)

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Tesla is actively working to address automotive safety. I don’t agree with their entire approach. On balance, is it helpful? I don’t know. And I don’t have an issue with looking into false positive/false negative system issues. But you keep stepping over 98+ bodies to point out the one.

    • 0 avatar

      “Tesla is actively working to address automotive safety.”

      The crashes say otherwise. People are pointing to Tesla here because it’s the subject at hand. The AutoPilot + drivers are causing repeat crashes.

      The other 98 are regular crashes of A-Z reasons, and not attributable to a single thing.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I don’t have first-hand data on the number of crashes averted/prevented in a typical day by Telsa Autopilot. Perhaps you do.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Here is some data from Tesla: “In the 1st quarter, we registered one accident for every 2.87 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged,” the automaker said today. “For those driving without Autopilot, we registered one accident for every 1.76 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 436,000 miles.”

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I’m sorry, I thought we were discussing the merits/demerits of Tesla’s Autopilot system. (But I’ll check out.)

  • avatar
    285exp

    Cadillac’s Level 2 system uses a camera to make sure the driver keeps their eyes on the road, but Musk refuses to do this, thus ensuring a greater probability that the system will be abused. These crashes are on him.

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    It comes in threes…..

    And then it comes in threes all over again and again and…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    ToolGuy, thanks but the topic is crashes caused directly by misuse of Autopilot, basically crash events that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

    Autopilot’s over all crash-stats are irrelevant for this study.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It would light a fire under Musk/Tesla if the cars were pulled off the road.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Even as Tesla takes subsidies in every orifice like an air-tight prostitute in a pig-pile, capital is their loss-leader. They’re kept afloat by evil people who want to perpetuate the illusion that EVs are a business instead of a solution to ending the bourgeoisie and all traces of individual rights with them. That being the case, I’m not surprised that they get away with murder, but I am surprised that the left has so little concern that AV deaths won’t upset their new dark age apple cart.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    @ToddAtlas1:

    Please name the subsidies that Tesla takes.

    And then explain the individual rights I’ve surrendered by driving an EV, and how ‘murderous’ EV mfrs (or maybe just Tesla) are.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Do you really pander for them here every day and not know that the taxpayers pick up the cost of their rebates while the buyers of many other brands of cars kick in $5200 for every Tesla sold in ‘carbon-trading’ and ‘CAFE-target credit’ scams in the US and the EU? Then there are all the forms the subsidies of their charging network take, be they wasted revenue by employers or public funds. Tesla loses money while costing people who aren’t parasites $15K on every unit sold.

    This is an article about Tesla killing a passenger. One about them murdering two innocent people was published on this site quite recently. Do you have one of those truth-prisms like the Pedocrat voters use to avoid reality?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    If you look at the Indiana crash, the couple were traveling cross country for the holidays. It’s easy to speculate that FSD was being used. It was a devastating crash probably at the speed limit or higher directly into a stationary Class 8 chassis fire truck (which was attending to a previous crash). That kind of crash is very rare with human drivers who will almost always brake or swerve.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This isn’t about the daily body count of MVAs.

    This isn’t about Tesla per se.

    Tesla has marketed autopilot as doing the driving for you. Oh yes, you need to keep your hands on the wheel, wink wink.

    That’s the problem. It is what they promise, what they market, and how the market understands it.

    Anything else is just deflection to the 800-pound elephant in the room about to get fried to show the dangers of DC power. Autopilot does not operate as marketed. Buyers are not using autopilot as use cases allow.

    If GM Super Cruise was slamming Cadillacs into police cruisers and fire trucks with flashing lights on, or 18 wheelers crossing a highway – THEN – you would have a point.

    It’s like saying now that we know most of the facts on the 737-MAX that the 346 killed is no big deal, look at all of the other plane crashes!

    Yes. 100 people killed a day.

    The NHTSA has a responsibility to determine if a death is preventable.

    If the autopilot is piloting Teslas into police cruisers and fire trucks, there is a bit of a problem with the system.

    Hey, less than 100 people killed in the million of GM vehicles with wonky ignition switches – no problem.

    Hey, less than 50 people killed by entrapped floor mats in years and years of Toyota with or without sticky gas pedals. Who cares.

    We’ll never know the real body count from Takata airbags but hey – for all the airbags out there what’s the big deal.

    Three major accidents in a month with autopilot equipped Teslas that have killed multiple people.

    Meh – can’t possibly be idiot driver + overpromised autopilot + problems in the AI employed = people dying.

    Who cares. Right? I mean a 100 people a day – if we could make it 99, so what.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    “That kind of crash is very rare with human drivers who will almost always brake or swerve.”

    In other words, we’re still where we were when Tesla was beheading their true believers.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I think it’s a fair question to ask how many crashes are prevented by the autopilot that an average driver would have likely failed to prevent.

    Unfortunately, that’s something that would be VERY open to interpretation and debate. I could see a rigorous study about it, subject by peer review to SAE or some other credible group. I think whatever number you could scientifically come up with, somebody could also come up with an equally valid but much different number.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    @TTAC: The comment system is so broken it’s almost not worth visiting here. FIX IT!!

    @ToddAtlasF1:
    1. Tesla didn’t invent the EV subsidy, but they and every other EV mfr have benefited from it. GM and Nissan are next to exhaust their legal limit, just as Tesla has, but Tesla gets all the hate about it. And as you know quite well, a tax break for a customer costs the population nothing; it’s simply less revenue. Tesla isn’t receiving government checks, and neither are the customers. Tax breaks for babies and mortgages are the same thing.

    2. Tesla pays for the Supercharger network, as do their customers. Not sure why you think the public is funding this.

    3. Tesla didn’t invent the carbon-credit scam. As the EV sales leader, they just happen to benefit the most from it.

    4. Tesla hasn’t killed or murdered anybody. Inattentive drivers did that.

    You and I may both vote “R”, so please apply the value of personal responsibility to this situation as well.

    When Tesla – or anybody else – claims to offer Level 4 or 5 autonomy, then I *will* blame them for road deaths while it is enabled. But so will the law, and that’s why I think such a product will never see the light of day.

    But more on point, if the NHTSA chooses to, I’d support them forcing Tesla to disable Autopilot until it’s shown to be more safe. But this will require some soul-searching to define ‘more safe’, because technically, it doesn’t actually have to work. SAE Level 2 is just a terrible idea because of our human tendency to trust too much.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    I was about to reply using the “REPLY” button to someone’s comment equating the autopiloting systems utilized by aircraft with the function of the systems utilized by Tesla. While both systems perform roughly the same function (computer operated control systems) the comparison is rather apples to oranges. Pilots are busy with tasks directly relating to the movement of their aircraft and are being monitored/controlled by ground-based flight direction. Very few end up flying into things while the pilots are “inattentive” and it could be argued that any moments of pilot “inattention” would be related directly to operation of the flight. Autonomous automobiles are a different kettle of fish completely. The “REPLY” button, as mentioned above, does not work anymore on TTAC. There is some other function on the site called Jetcal that interferes with me also.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    “I was about to reply using the “REPLY” button to someone’s comment equating the autopiloting systems utilized by aircraft with the function of the systems utilized by Tesla.”

    Maybe the next upgrade to the commenting system could assign your comment to whichever of the day’s articles has the least traffic and then take you to the article posted before that one.

  • avatar
    mcs

    @comment issues: Well, I think we now know where the $3 an hour programmers from Boeing went.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    @SCE to AUX

    I don’t think they need to “disable” it given how easily Tesla can do OTA. We haven’t heard anything about Cadillac Supercruise having these issues. We have heard that Supercruise will disengage because the camera that watches the driver to make sure the driver is paying attention gets blinded in outlier cases. So I’m not saying it is perfect, but every comparison I’ve read has said Supercruise is more safety-oriented because it has more nannies and feels more baked.

    Setting the limitations that Supercruise has to basically force a Tesla driver to pay attention, and limit the operation of Autopilot to limited access highways only (like Supercruise) would go a long way to solving all these issues.

    Hubris won’t let them do it.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    If you’re not up to the task of steering your car, please take an Uber or Lyft FFS.

  • avatar
    slowbot

    One thing is certain, if you crash a Tesla. Tesla is going to let you look bad before they look bad and they are going to use all of that telematics data recorded about your driving up to that point against you.

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