The scene of a fatal accident involving a Tesla and a motorcycle on July 24, 2022 near Draper, Utah. The Tesla driver said she was on autopilot. (Utah Department of Public Safety via AP)
DETROIT – Two accidents involving Tesla apparently running on autopilot are drawing scrutiny from federal regulators and indicate a potential new hazard on U.S. highways: Partially automated vehicles may not stop for motorcycles.
Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent investigation teams to two incidents in which Tesla collided with motorcycles on highways in darkness. Both were fatal.
The agency suspects Tesla’s partially automated driving assistance system was in use in each of them. The agency says that once more information is gathered, it could include incidents in a wider probe of emergency vehicles hitting Tesla parked along the highways. NHTSA is also investigating more than 750 complaints that Teslas can brake for no reason.
The first accident involving a motorcyclist occurred at 4:47 am on July 7 on State Route 91, a highway in Riverside, California. A Tesla Model Y SUV was traveling east in the high occupancy vehicle lane. Ahead of him was a rider on a Yamaha V-Star motorcycle, the California Highway Patrol said in a statement.
The vehicles collided and the unidentified rider was expelled from Yamaha. He was pronounced dead on the spot.
Whether Tesla was operating on autopilot remains under investigation, a CHP spokesperson said.
The second incident occurred around 1:00 am on July 24 on Interstate 15 near Draper, Utah. A Tesla Model 3 was behind a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, also in an HOV lane. “The Tesla driver did not see the rider and collided with the rear of the motorcycle, which caused the rider to fall off the bike,” the Utah Department of Public Safety said in a statement.
The pilot, identified as Landon Embry, 34, of Orem, Utah, died instantly. The Tesla driver told authorities he had activated the vehicle’s autopilot, the statement said.
Security Agency: Recalls the autopilot
Michael Brooks, interim executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, called on NHTSA to retire Tesla’s autopilot because it doesn’t recognize motorcyclists, emergency vehicles, or pedestrians.
“It’s pretty clear to me, and it should be clear by now for a lot of Tesla owners, this stuff isn’t working properly and won’t live up to expectations, and it’s endangering innocent people on the streets. “Brooks said.
Since 2016, NHTSA has sent teams to 39 incidents where automated driving systems are suspected to be in use, according to agency documents. Of these, 30 involved Tesla, including accidents that resulted in 19 deaths.
Brooks criticized the agency for continuing to investigate but not for taking action. “What the hell are they doing while these incidents keep happening?” He asked her. “Drivers have been tricked into thinking this protects them and others on the roads, and it just doesn’t work.”
Musk has eliminated the use of radar from his systems and relies solely on cameras and computer memory. Brooks and other security advocates say lack of radar harms vision in the dark.
Messages have been left seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.
Tesla said autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” cannot drive alone (despite what their names may imply) and that drivers should be ready to intervene at all times.
In a June interview, NHTSA’s new CEO Steven Cliff said the agency is stepping up efforts to understand the risks posed by automated vehicles so that it can decide what regulations might be needed to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians. There are no federal regulations that directly cover self-driving vehicles or those with partially automated driver assistance systems such as autopilot.
The agency also says the technology promises a lot of reducing road accidents.
NHTSA also ordered all car manufacturers and technology companies with automated driving systems to report all incidents. The agency released the first batch of data in June showing nearly 400 crashes were reported over a 10-month period, including 273 with Tesla. But he cautioned against making comparisons, saying Tesla’s telematics allows it to collect data in real time, much faster than other companies.
Tesla’s autopilot keeps cars in their lane and a distance behind other vehicles. The company is also using select owners to test “Full Self-Driving” software, which is designed to complete a course on its own with human supervision. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the cars will eventually drive on their own, enabling a fleet of autonomous robotic robots that will boost Tesla’s earnings. In 2019, Musk pledged to make robot taxis work in 2020.
On Thursday, at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting, he said “Full Self-Driving” has greatly improved and plans to make the software available later this year to all owners who request it.