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Tesla claims Autopilot software wasn’t used correctly in recent Model X crash

Published Jul 13th, 2016 8:49AM EDT
Tesla Model X Crash

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Tesla late last night issued a statement concerning the recent Model X crash that occurred on a dark Montana road a few days ago. And as many members from within the Tesla community predicted, it turns out that the driver of the totaled Model X was not using the vehicle’s Autopilot software appropriately.

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In statements provided to Electrek and CNN, Tesla relays a number of interesting data points it unearthed from the car’s logs. For starters, Tesla notes that the car’s Autopilot software was activated while driving down an undivided road, something Tesla’s manual “specifically advises against.”

Tesla also discovered that the driver’s hands were not on the steering wheel for at least a full two minutes after the autosteer feature was engaged. What’s more, Tesla relays that the Model X issued an alert to the driver indicating that he should put hands back on the steering wheel immediately and re-assume control of the car. This alert, Tesla notes, went unheeded.

Tesla’s full statement on the matter can be read below:

This vehicle was being driven along an undivided mountain road shortly after midnight with autosteer enabled. The data suggests that the driver’s hands were not on the steering wheel, as no force was detected on the steering wheel for over 2 minutes after autosteer was engaged (even a very small amount of force, such as one hand resting on the wheel, will be detected). This is contrary to the terms of use that are agreed to when enabling the feature and the notification presented in the instrument cluster each time it is activated.

As road conditions became increasingly uncertain, the vehicle again alerted the driver to put his hands on the wheel. He did not do so and shortly thereafter the vehicle collided with a post on the edge of the roadway.

Autosteer, which is enabled via the Driver Assistance tab under Settings, is best suited either for highways with a center divider or any road while in slow-moving traffic. We specifically advise against its use at high speeds on undivided roads.

That said, provided the driver remains alert, it will still be safer than a person driving unaided, as people are sometimes distracted or may become unable to operate the vehicle, due to falling sleep, fainting or experiencing a medical emergency. After either high lateral acceleration from a sharp corner is detected or there is no force on the steering wheel, the vehicle gradually reduces speed, stops and turns on the emergency lights.

Incidentally, CNN notes that the driver of the Model X — a man with the last name Pang — didn’t receive any such alert, though it’s possible that a language barrier might be to blame.

“Pang said he did not receive any warning from the car that he was in danger and needed to act,” CNN said, “adding that the warnings from his car were in English, and that he speaks Mandarin.”

Lastly, Tesla yesterday said that it has no intention of disabling Autopilot functionality from its cars, the recent onslaught of negative publicity notwithstanding. Instead, CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla will publish an “explanatory blog post that highlights how Autopilot works as a safety system and what drivers are expected to do after they activate it.”

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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