Jalopnik.com reported on a crash involving a Tesla vehicle that was on Autopilot. According to the report, the crash took place at night on Highway 24 near Lafayette in clear weather. The Tesla, which was recording via its on-board cameras, was driving quite fast and rear-ended a Honda Civic hard enough to send it flying. There was not much traffic around and the Tesla could have easily passed the Honda on each side, the report states.
Details of the Crash
Here are the details of the crash according to Jalopnik. The data shown in the crash footage suggests a speed differential between the Honda and the Tesla of about 63 mph, which is of course significant. Autopilot disengaged about 40 seconds before the impact because Tesla issued a Forward Collision Warning (FCW) chime, which came on again two seconds before impact. The FCW however does not apply the brakes automatically.
What appears to have happened in this case is that the Autopilot was engaged and it detected a collision warning 40 seconds before impact. But, that warning was simply a chime and there was no automatic braking to back it up. Black box data, in this case, shows the speed at the time of impact at 135.5 mph, Jalopnik says. It is not clear how many people were injured in this crash or how badly they were injured.
But, what seems apparent is that this accident could have been easily prevented if the driver was paying even the slightest bit of attention. It also appears that the collision warning chimes had no effect on the driver. It is not clear if the driver was asleep at the time, a trend we’ve seen with other Tesla drivers in California who engage their Autopilot feature and go to sleep while driving.
Autopilot and Safety Concerns
If the details of this report are accurate, it appears that the driver delegated the task of driving to the car and either dozed off or became distracted. For some reason, they could not take over in time to avoid the collision. This is a problem with Autopilot that raises red flags time and again. Even a recent study by MIT researchers found that Tesla drivers are more distracted when Autopilot is engaged. The study found that drivers glanced more frequently away from the road, and thus paid less attention when Autopilot was active. The MIT researchers also found that 33% of Tesla drivers did not have their hands on the wheel prior to taking control of the car from Autopilot.
Vehicles with autonomous or even semi-autonomous features should not be out on our roadways without additional testing. Automakers have a responsibility to put vehicles on the market that are safe and reliable. These autonomous vehicles need a lot more testing and probably tweaking before they can be out on our roadways.