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Tesla admits Autopilot was engaged in new crash, but says driver was still at fault

Published Aug 10th, 2016 9:34AM EDT
Tesla Autopilot Crash
Image: Tesla

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It has become increasingly apparent over the past few months that Tesla’s advanced Autopilot technology is a work in progress. Early media coverage of the nifty new feature was for the most part breathless praise, as bloggers and journalists marveled at how advanced Tesla’s self-driving tech was compared to the competition. But the conversation shifted abruptly earlier this year when it was discovered that Autopilot was engaged at the time a Model S struck a tractor-trailer earlier this year in Florida, killing the Tesla’s driver instantly. Since then Autopilot has been under the microscope and Tesla has been repeatedly accused of using its drivers a guinea pigs despite having logged more than 130 million miles without a fatal accident.

Now, Autopilot is back in the spotlight following yet another accident, this time in China.

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Tesla has acknowledged that the Autopilot mode was engaged on a Model S in China when it struck a parked car on the side of the road. The incident was the first such crash to have been reported in China, but it’s the latest in a string of accidents where the driver has blamed Autopilot.

Tesla often analyzes driving logs and comes back to refute such allegations, but this time the company confirmed that Autopilot was indeed enabled. The electric car maker is still blaming the driver for the accident, however.

33-year-old programmer Luo Zhen was driving to work in Beijing with Autopilot engaged when his Model S struck a car that was parked on the shoulder but sticking out into the road. No one was seriously injured. According to Reuters, the incident was captured on film by Luo’s dashboard camera — yet another reminder of how important it is to equip your car with a dash cam.

Tesla analyzed the car’s driving logs at the time of the incident and determined that Autopilot was indeed engaged at the time of the collision. But the company said that Luo’s hands were not on the steering wheel at the time of impact, and for that reason he is at fault.

“The driver of the Tesla, whose hands were not detected on the steering wheel, did not steer to avoid the parked car and instead scraped against its side,” a Tesla spokeswoman said in a statement. “As clearly communicated to the driver in the vehicle, autosteer is an assist feature that requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times, to always maintain control and responsibility for the vehicle, and to be prepared to take over at any time.”

Meanwhile, Luo says the sales staff who sold him the Model S overplayed the feature’s capabilities as “self-driving” technology. Meanwhile warnings in the manual and in the car itself instruct the driver to keep his or her attention on the road at all times when the autosteer feature is engaged, with both hands on the wheel and a foot near the brake pedal.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.