Video: Tesla Slams Into Overturned Truck in Probable Autopilot Failure

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

A Tesla Model 3 became one with an overturned box truck in Taiwan on Monday, raising another red flag for advanced driver-assist features. Since we routinely crap upon driving aids — which never seem to work when and how you need them — we’ll keep this one under 650 words. Fortunately, our task has been made easier by preliminary reports lacking much information and a sizable language barrier.

The incident took place on Taiwan’s National Highway 1 near the Zhongshan High Chiayi Water Section, with the car allegedly operating in Autopilot mode. Video footage shows the Model 3 keeping to the leftmost lane with ample time to stop for the overturned delivery vehicle. There’s even a person standing in the road (likely the truck’s driver), flagging cars to warn them of the giant obstacle. The Tesla, however, failed to notice any of that until it was too late and ended up going through the trailer’s roof.

As much blame as the manufacturer is bound to get for this one (like in past incidents), we’re saddling the driver with all the responsibility this time. There’s really no excuse for this to have happened, assuming the vehicle’s brakes were functioning normally, and the accident could have been avoided if he’d kept his eyes on the road. It also feels fine to call him a moron, as he survived the encounter without sustaining serious injuries.

The Model 3 does appear to apply the brakes as it approaches the overturned vehicle, but it’s far too late to do anything but bleed off some speed before impact. Jalopnik, which first reported the story in English, did not indicate whether Autopilot or the driver (a 53-year-old man named Huang) stomped the brake pedal at the last second. Local Taiwanese outlets seem to suggest it was the car. Had his overconfidence in Autopilot not gotten him into the predicament in the first place, we’d probably praise the system. That won’t happen today.

Tesla’s Autopilot has shown itself to be vulnerable to large, brightly colored objects (usually white). Joshua Brown, the Florida Tesla owner believed to be the first Autopilot-related fatality, also collided with a white semi-truck trailer that the system’s camera array failed to recognize as an obstacle. LIDAR, which CEO Elon Musk has been famously averse to implementing, probably would have been able to fill in some of the visual gaps in the software. But don’t assume it’d have saved the day. We’ve driven enough advanced driving aids to know they’re always one minor hiccup away from failing you, regardless of manufacturer or design.

Twitter user @jsin86524368, who clearly has an axe to grind with overhyped automotive tech (we see you, brother) and an affinity for comically cringeworthy articles/press releases, compiled a comprehensive collection of photos and videos from the incident. He also said that Taiwanese media claimed the car’s airbags didn’t go off. While the accident may not have been severe enough to trigger them, the footage certainly makes it seem as though they should have.

Tesla rarely has anything to say about stuff like this unless it’s forced to; in this case, we don’t think there’s much of a need. The problem is fairly obvious. Misleading marketing has led well-heeled fools to believe certain automotive products are self-driving and they’re now running amok on public roads.

Our take? Regulators need to pull their heads out of their asses and come to grips with how badly they’ve mishandled certifying this “life-saving technology” and remind themselves that corporate promises don’t mean a whole lot. At the same time, automakers (not just Tesla) need to cut the crap and stop pretending driver assistance packages are infallible. They’re notoriously unreliable, frequently obnoxious, and selling them has allowed a subset of bad drivers to become worse because they’ve mistakenly convinced themselves that an electronic nanny will intervene at the last minute and save them.

[Image: B.Zhou/Shuterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Jun 02, 2020

    Speculation (we've seen my history of video interpretation - lol): • The driver of the truck (if that's the driver of the truck) likely saved this guy - the driver of the car brakes when the driver of the truck gets in his face as much as possible at that speed. • The driver of the car did eventually bleed off a good bit of speed - it's interesting that the airbags didn't fire [likely Delta-V hint]. • +1 to indi500fan's 'crash dissipation' comment. The driver of the car certainly chose the 'softest' part of the truck to run into. The front end of the Tesla looks to be in pretty good shape. Latest death statistics [worldwide] (from people who have a financial incentive to track them carefully): Nobody died here, so of course you don't see this one listed. [If looking for this incident in the spreadsheet was your first instinct, check your biases.] In the "Autopilot claimed" column, the latest figure is from September 17, 2019. In the "Verified Tesla Autopilot Death" column, the latest entry is from March 1, 2019. If you graph global "Verified Tesla Autopilot Death"s over time, you get a very different picture than the reactionary knee-jerk hysteria some have exhibited. Meanwhile, it *may be possible* that Tesla 'Autopilot' [thumbs-down on naming] has prevented some accidents and some deaths.

  • Imagefont Imagefont on Jun 02, 2020

    All the Tesla fanboys.... jeez Once again and pay attention: this system is specifically designed to lull the driver into a false sense of security, even if the fine print says is sub level 2. The system WILL DRIVE THE CAR, about as competently as a five year old either one driving lesson. When it works all the fanboys point to he great tech a mumble something about statistics and how that proves it’s safe. When there’s a crash, blame the driver, you should have been paying attention, don’t blame the car. Do you get it? Anyone with functioning brain cells out there? Anyone? No???

    • See 4 previous
    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jun 03, 2020

      @Vulpine I'm not in the industry, but an airbag is somewhere between an active and passive device. It doesn't control the steering, throttle, or brakes like AP does. It merely sits there waiting for a signal to deploy. Airbags aren't as passive as a seatbelt, but even those require the driver to use them, and some are fitted with 'active' retraction devices for high-G crashes. If you're referring to Takata, that's clearly an anomaly in passenger safety. Nothing provides greater value than a seatbelt and a defensive driving style.

  • Stephen My "mid-level" limited edition Tonino Lambo Ferraccio Junior watch has performed flawlessly with attractive understated style for nearly 20 years. Their cars are not so much to my taste-- my Acura NSX is just fine. Not sure why you have such condescension towards these excellent timepieces. They are attractive without unnecessary flamboyance, keep perfect time and are extremely reliable. They are also very reasonably priced.
  • Dana You don’t need park, you set auto hold (button on the console). Every BMW answers to ‘Hey, BMW’, but you can set your own personal wake word in iDrive. It takes less than 5 minutes to figure that that out, btw. The audio stays on which is handy for Teams meetings. Once your phone is out of range, the audio is stopped on the car. You can always press down on the audio volume wheel which will mute it, if it bothers you. I found all the controls very intuitive.
  • ToolGuy Not sure if I've ever said this, or if you were listening:• Learn to drive, people.Also, learn which vehicles to take home with you and which ones to walk away from. You are an adult now, think for yourself. (Those ads are lying to you. Your friendly neighborhood automotive dealer, also lying to you. Politicians? Lying to you. Oh yeah, learn how to vote lol.)Addendum for the weak-minded who think I am advocating some 'driver training' program: Learning is not something you do in school once for all time. Learning how to drive is not something that someone does for you. It is a continuous process driven by YOU. Learn how to learn how to drive, and learn to drive. Keep on learning how to drive. (You -- over there -- especially you, you kind of suck at driving. LOL.)Example: Do you know where your tires are? When you are 4 hours into a 6 hour interstate journey and change lanes, do you run over the raised center line retroreflective bumpers, or do you steer between them?
  • Mike Bradley Advertising, movies and TV, manufacturing, and car culture have all made speeding and crashing the ultimate tests of manhood. Throw in the political craziness and you've got a perfect soup of destruction and costs.
  • Lou_BC Jay Leno had said that EV's would be good since they could allow the continued existence of ICE cars for enthusiasts. That sentiment makes sense. Many buyers see vehicles as a necessary appliance.