NHTSA investigates “violent” Tesla crash, autopilot not but dominated out

A driver drives hands-free in a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S vehicle equipped with autopilot hardware and software in New York.

Christopher Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating a “violent” crash that involved a Tesla sedan and tractor unit in Detroit late last week. Investigators have yet to say whether Tesla’s autopilot, FSD, or FSD Beta could have contributed to the crash.

The NHTSA said in a statement Monday, “NHTSA is aware of the violent crash that occurred in Detroit on March 11th involving a Tesla and a tractor-trailer. We deployed a special crash investigation team to investigate the crash.” Reuters previously reported on the probe.

The Detroit Police Department said in an email that the crash happened when a Tesla being driven by “an unknown male driver” hit a semi-trailer and was “wedged under the trailer.” A passenger in the car is in critical condition and the circumstances of the accident are still being investigated.

The NHTSA has investigated more than a dozen accidents that are believed to have involved Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems.

These systems include Tesla’s standard autopilot package and an expanded option marketed as Full Self-Driving, which is now on sale for $ 10,000. The company’s autopilot and FSD (Full Self-Driving) technology do not make Tesla vehicles safe to operate without a driver at the wheel. Some customers who purchase the FSD option also get access to a “beta” version to test the latest features that are added to the system before all bugs are fixed.

Investigators have yet to say whether any of these systems were in use during or shortly before the March 11th crash in Detroit. However, Tesla autopilot vehicles have collided with stationary objects and large vehicles, including tractor units and fire trucks, on multiple occasions.

A 50-year-old Jeremy Beren Banner of Lake Worth, Florida died when his Model 3 on autopilot hit the side of a semi-trailer in Florida on March 1, 2019, causing the roof of his car to shear off as it went underneath past.

While Tesla’s autopilot system has changed significantly over the years, it has been under regulatory scrutiny since 2016 when an owner named Joshua Brown died while driving his Tesla Model S on autopilot near Gainsville, Florida . The vehicle also collided with a tractor-trailer.

Another federal vehicle safety guardian who makes NHTSA recommendations, the National Transportation Safety Board, recently called for clear and strict rules for automated driving systems at the federal level. The board pointed to Tesla’s approach to automated driving systems as a reason why stricter safety requirements and clear regulations are needed.

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