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Model S software crashes car, but Tesla blames the driver

Tesla Model S Summon Crash

You may love your Tesla, but that doesn’t make it any less prone to accidents than other cars. If you want an example, consider that a Tesla driver in Utah recently found that his Model S loaner had parked itself automatically into the back of a trailer.

After analyzing logs, the carmaker told him that he’s the only person to blame for the accident. Apparently, the car’s auto-parking feature was initiated, which is why the car hit the back of the trailer.

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The Summon feature is still in beta and requires human oversight. Tesla advises users to monitor the self-parking feature at all times and intervene to avoid obstacles that could cause accidents.

The driver, Jared Overton, said that he did not activate the Summon feature and that he was near the vehicle for some 20 seconds talking about it with a nearby worker at the business he was visiting. Overton said he parked well behind the trailer, but the car somehow drove itself into it, failing to detect the trailer’s bed.

Overton and the worker discovered the car a few minutes later when exiting the business.

“We were trying to figure out how on earth the vehicle started on its own,” Overton told KSL. “What happened with this kind of rogue vehicle?”

Tesla sent a letter to Overton telling him that it was practically his fault, suggesting he may have invoked the Summon feature and that he may have failed to monitor the car.

“Tesla has reviewed the vehicle’s logs, which show that the incident occurred as a result of the driver not being properly attentive to the vehicle’s surroundings while using the Summon feature or maintaining responsibility for safely controlling the vehicle at all times,” the letter said.

The Summon feature “was initiated by a double-press of the gear selector stalk button, shifting from Drive to Park and requesting Summon activation” Tesla explained. It all happened three seconds after Overton exited the car and closed the door, the letter explained.

The driver disagrees, saying that even if he accidentally started Summon, he would have been able to hear it and stop it.

“Even during that 15, 20-second walk right here, we would have easily heard the impact of the vehicle into the back of the trailer,” Overton said. “They can tell me what they want to tell me with the logs, but it doesn’t change what we know happened here.”

“They’re just assuming that I sat there and watched it happen, and I was OK with that,” Overton said.

A Tesla spokesperson told KSL that the Summon feature is in beta, and each driver has to agree to certain terms and conditions before enabling it. These conditions say that the driver has to be in proximity of the car when using its autonomous features to be able to assume manual control if something goes wrong.

“This feature will park Model S while the driver is outside the vehicle,” the statement said. “Please note that the vehicle may not detect certain obstacles, including those that are very narrow (e.g., bikes), lower than the fascia, or hanging from the ceiling. As such, Summon requires that you continually monitor your vehicle’s movement and surroundings while it is in progress and that you remain prepared to stop the vehicle at any time using your key fob or mobile app or by pressing any door handle. You must maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle when using this feature and should only use it on private property.”

Overton said the statement practically dismissed the experience of two witnesses. “Imagine if a child was right there — I guarantee that they would be responding to this a lot differently,” Overton said. “I will not feel safe with my little boy playing in the garage or the driveway if there’s the potential for a rogue vehicle.”

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.