Data recovered from a Tesla that was driven at 60 miles per hour into a Unified Fire Authority vehicle stopped at an intersection last Friday confirms the driver had engaged the vehicle's autopilot system, police said Wednesday.
At the time, she told the police that the vehicle was on Autopilot and later admitted that she was on her phone.
The Autopilot system includes visual and audio warnings to drivers when they remove their hands from the wheel.
The 28-year-old driver, who was not identified, suffered a broken foot.
Tesla has released several statements on the accident, including a March 30 blog post that expressed sorrow for the family but defended its technology and pointed responsibility for the crash on the driver.
The driver had been using the "Autosteer" and "Traffic Aware Cruise Control" functions of Autopilot, Tesla reported to police. The vehicle registered more than a dozen instances of her hands being off the steering wheel in this drive cycle, according data retrieved by Tesla technicians. On two occasions, the driver had her hands off the wheel for more than a minute each time, reengaging briefly with the steering wheel only after a visual alert from the auto.
The driver manually pressed the vehicle brake pedal fractions of a second prior to the crash. The truck had been stopped at a red light.
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Some automakers, such as Cadillac, have driver assist systems that only function if maps indicate that the vehicle is traveling on a route, typically a highway, that is compatible with a auto taking over some driving duties.
Contrary to the proper use of Autopilot, the driver did not pay attention to the road at all times, did not keep her hands on the steering wheel, and she used it on a street with no center median and with stoplight controlled intersections. Autopilot self-driving capabilities of the Tesla were not expected to be involved, the NTSB said. Tesla can update the Autopilot software over the air, not necessitating a trip to a service center. According to the results shared by the organization, which is presently carrying out safety tests of the Model 3, the electric vehicle from Tesla Motors has achieved a 'superior rating for front crash prevention'.
This is the latest investigation by federal regulators into recent accidents involving Tesla vehicles.
The agency said the fire, which may have been exacerbated by the vehicle's battery, is the focus of the investigation, not the vehicle's semiautonomous system.
It is the third Tesla crash since January that the NHTSA is investigating that may have been linked to autopilot.
Swiss prosecutors said this week that they were looking into the fatal crash of a Tesla in southern Switzerland.
The electric auto company is in the middle of a huge push to ramp up production of its critical Model 3 sedan, an entry-level vehicle that it hopes will turbocharge electric auto sales among a new demographic and fill the companies coffers after years of bleeding cash.
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