LOS ANGELES (AP) – The driver of a Tesla involved in a fatal accident that California highway authorities said may have been operating on autopilot posted videos on social media of himself driving the vehicle with his hands on the wheel. or foot on the pedal.
The May 5 accident in Fontana, a city 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, is also being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The investigation is the 29th case involving a Tesla that the federal agency has investigated.
In the Fontana accident, a 35-year-old man identified as Steven Michael Hendrickson was killed when his Tesla Model 3 struck an overturned semi-trailer on a highway around 2:30 a.m.
Hendrickson was a member of the Southern California section of a Tesla club that posted numerous photos and videos on social media of his white Model 3. A video on his Instagram account showed him traveling in the driver’s seat without his hands on the wheel or without his feet. the pedal as the Tesla navigated freeway traffic. The video included the comment: “The best possible carpool buddy even handles boring traffic for me.”
A GoFundMe page created to raise funds for his funeral and memorial service says Hendrickson was survived by his wife and two children. A message seeking comment from his wife has not been returned.
“Every time we talked to him, he got excited talking about his kids and he loved his Tesla,” Tesla Club-SoCal posted on Instagram. “He was truly an amazing human being and we will miss him!
Another man was seriously injured when the electric vehicle struck him while helping the truck driver out of the accident.
The CHP announced Thursday that its preliminary investigation had determined that Tesla’s partially automated driving system called Autopilot “was on” before the accident. The agency said it was commenting on the Fontana accident because of the “high level of interest” in Tesla accidents and because it was “an opportunity to remind the public that driving is a complex task that requires the driver’s full attention.”
However, on Friday, the agency backtracked its earlier statement.
“To clarify,” said a new statement from CHP, “No final determination has been made as to what driving mode the Tesla was in or whether it was a contributing factor to the accident.”
At least three people have died in previous crashes in the US involving the autopilot, which can keep a car centered in its lane and at a safe distance behind vehicles in front of it. Tesla allows a limited number of owners to test its autonomous driving system.
Tesla, which dissolved its public relations department, did not respond to an email seeking comment on Friday. The company says in owner’s manuals and on its website that both autopilot and “full autonomous driving” are not fully autonomous and that drivers should pay attention and be ready to intervene at any time.
At times, the autopilot has had trouble dealing with stationary objects and crossings in front of Teslas.
In two Florida crashes, in 2016 and 2019, automobiles with in-use autopilot passed under crossover tractor trailers, killing the men driving the Tesla. In a 2018 accident in Mountain View, California, an Apple engineer driving on autopilot was killed when his Tesla hit a road barrier.
Tesla’s system, which uses short-range cameras, radar and sonar, also has trouble handling stopped emergency vehicles. Teslas has collided with several fire trucks and police vehicles that were stopped on the freeways with the emergency lights on.
After the fatal accidents in Florida and California, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that Tesla develop a stronger system to ensure drivers pay attention and limit use of the autopilot to roads where it can operate effectively. . Neither Tesla nor the security agency took action.
In a Feb. 1 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, NTSB President Robert Sumwalt urged the department to enact regulations governing driver assistance systems such as autopilot, as well as testing of autonomous vehicles. NHTSA has relied primarily on voluntary guidelines for vehicles, taking a hands-off approach so as not to hinder the development of new safety technologies.
Sumwalt said that Tesla is using people who have bought the cars to test “total autonomous driving” software on public roads with limited monitoring or reporting requirements.
“Because NHTSA has not established any requirements, manufacturers can operate and test vehicles virtually anywhere, even if the location exceeds the limitations of the AV (autonomous vehicle) control system,” Sumwalt wrote.
He added: “Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that ‘currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,’ NHTSA’s hands-off approach to AV testing supervision poses a risk. potential for motorists and other road users ”.
NHTSA, which has the authority to regulate automated driving systems and seek recalls if necessary, appears to have developed a renewed interest in the systems since President Joe Biden took office.
Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.
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