A fatal car accident and vehicle fire involving a Tesla Model X near Mountain View, Calif. has prompted a federal investigation. According to a Reuters news report, the accident occurred last week and it is still not clear if Tesla’s Autopilot system was driving the car at the time. The crash involved two other cars, police and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials said. Tesla’s Autopilot system is a semi-autonomous feature that handles some but not all driving tasks. The 38-year-old driver of the Tesla died at a nearby hospital shortly after the crash.
Tesla Crash Investigations
This is the second NTSB field investigation into a Tesla that has been launched since January. The California Highway Patrol said the Tesla Model X crashed into a freeway divider and then was hit by a Mazda before colliding with an Audi. Tesla’s lithium batteries caught fire and emergency officials put out the battery fire. In January, an accident in Culver City involved a Tesla and a fire truck. In that case, Tesla was in the semi-autonomous mode. The agencies have not disclosed any findings with regard to that case.
While the NTSB can make safety recommendations, it is up to the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) to actually recall unsafe vehicles if safety defects are not remedied promptly. However, before the agency can demand a recall, it must open up a formal investigation. NHTSA has not done that with Tesla vehicles yet. Tesla’s Autopilot allows drivers sometimes to take their hands off the wheel for extended periods.
The company still requires users to keep their hands on the wheel and take over should the need arise. The NTSB faulted Tesla in a fatal crash in Florida in May 2016 when a driver in a Tesla Model S was killed after a big rig crashed into his vehicle. That crash raised concerns about the safety of systems that can perform driving tasks for long periods of time, but still cannot completely replace human drivers. Tesla was also challenged over the name “Autopilot” because it misleads drivers into thinking that they can rely on the system entirely.
Ironing Out the Kinks
It appears that automakers are in a rush to put these vehicles on the market. But the question is whether they have done their due diligence when it comes to testing these vehicles and making sure they don’t pose a danger to the traveling public. If you have been injured in a crash involving a Tesla semi-autonomous vehicle or if you have lost a loved one in a similar crash, please contact an experienced auto product liability lawyer to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.