Tesla crash: Car flips and injures five passengers

Initial claims that the crash was the result of an auto-pilot error have been recanted

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Monday 17 July 2017 16:04 BST
The inside of a Tesla vehicle is viewed as it sits parked in a new Tesla showroom and service center in New York City
The inside of a Tesla vehicle is viewed as it sits parked in a new Tesla showroom and service center in New York City (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A Tesla owner who blamed his car's autopilot feature for "suddenly accelerating" and flipping his vehicle has said that it was actually him.

The crash occurred west of the Minneapolis, Minnesota, and David Clark claimed he had engaged the semi-autonomous driving feature in his Tesla electric car on a country road.

According to the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's office, Mr Clark's Tesla was found overturned in a marsh but the injuries were "minor".

But Mr Clark has since said it was actually his own mistake.

“To the best of my recollection I had engaged the autopilot system but then I had disengaged it by stepping on accelerator," an email sent by Mr Clark to the sheriff's department read. "I then remember looking up and seeing the sharp left turn which I was accelerating into.

"I believe we started to make the turn but then felt the car give way and lose its footing like we hit loose gravel. That was the feeling that I was trying to describe to you that I had lost control of the vehicle. The next thing I know tall grass is whipping past the windshield and we were traveling at an odd angle in the ditch and then flipped over the right side and ended up on the roof.”

The "cruise control" option in Teslas use cameras, radars, and an on-board computers to detect lanes, other vehicles, and objects in the road, steering as needed.

Tesla said in a statement following the accident that it has "no reason to believe [the autopilot feature] worked other than as designed."

The company has not yet responded to the request for information on if drivers and purchasers of Tesla vehicles receive some sort of training to use the feature. The Washington Post reported that Tesla does require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel even while the feature is engaged, however.

This is the second time the Palo Alto, California-based company's autopilot feature has been blamed for an accident.

In Gainsville, Florida, in May 2016, a driver was killed when his Tesla, going 70 miles per hour, crashed into a truck. It was the first known crash of a partly autonomous vehicle.

After the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a full report on the crash and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) decided not to issue a recall of that model of Tesla cars, finding no safety defect.

Though there was a subsequent debate about the safety of such a feature, it was reported that the driver ignored six audio and seven visual warnings issued by the car's system to keep his hands on the steering wheel.

Safety fears after Tesla driver dies in autopilot crash

Tesla has also implemented an automatic "off" feature for autopilot. If drivers continuously ignore safety warnings now, the car will disable autopilot until the next time the car is started.

Mr Clark nor the police have confirmed whether he got any warnings from his Tesla prior to the accident.

Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, recently said at the National Governor's Association semi-annual meeting that "Probably in 10 years, more than a half of new vehicle production is electric in the US...I think almost all cars produced will be autonomous."

"There will not be a steering wheel in 20 years...it will be like having a horse" Mr Musk said.

For the time being, a Tesla owner in California filed a federal lawsuit against Tesla for the same "sudden acceleration" problem. His SUV was parked in his garage when it unexpectedly crashed into his living room, injuring him and destroying walls.

A request for class-action status has been filed as well in an attempt to add seven other Tesla drivers with complaints in other states that were listed in the NHTSA database.

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