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Autopilot was on in fatal crash, Tesla says

A 2017 Tesla Model X. (Vauxford/WikiMedia)

Autopilot was active in the moments leading up to last week’s crash of a Tesla Model X on a South Bay freeway that killed a San Mateo man dead, the electric-car maker said.

The disclosure comes as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates whether Autopilot was engaged at the time of the collision. And it follows assertions by the victim’s Walter Huang’s family that he had taken the car to a dealer several times and complained that the function kept steering the car toward the highway divider into which he crashed.

Autopilot is an automated-driving function available in Tesla cars that includes features such as lane-centering.

According to a Tesla blog post Friday, the function was “engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum” at 9:27 a.m. March 23, when Walter Huang’s Model X slammed into the divider separating southbound Highway 101 and the carpool flyover to Highway 85 near Mountain View.

“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision,” Tesla said. “The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”

Earlier this week, Tesla said the divider was missing a safety barrier designed to reduce the impact of a crash. The automaker provided an image of the location taken a day before the collision that appeared to show that the barrier had not been replaced after a recent crash.

“We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash,” Tesla said.

Caltrans says it is reviewing the facts and circumstances of the collision and cooperating with the NTSB investigation.

When reached for comment on the crash earlier this week, a Tesla spokesperson said the company has been searching its service records, “And we cannot find anything suggesting that the customer ever complained to Tesla about the performance of Autopilot.”

The spokesperson said there had been “a concern” raised about the car’s navigation not working properly, but “Autopilot’s performance is unrelated to navigation.”


(Rex Crum contributed to this report.)


© 2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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