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NTSB: Autopilot Was In Use Before Tesla Hit Semitrailer

PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) -- The latest fatal crash involving a Tesla Model 3 had Autopilot engaged during the time of the impact, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The car drove beneath the trailer, killing the driver, in a crash that is strikingly similar to one that happened on the other side of Florida in 2016 that also involved use of Autopilot.

  • Read the report here

The 2018 Model 3 was heading southbound in the right lane at the 14000 block of State Highway 441 in Delray Beach, Florida, on March 1, 2019. At the same time, a tractor trailer pulled out of a private driveway to make a left turn, attempting to go northbound on Hwy. 441, according to the report.

"According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla's path. The Tesla struck the left side of the semitrailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semitrailer and continued south). The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semitrailer," said the NTSB.

The impact killed the driver, a 50-year-old man. Investigators say the Model 3 was traveling well over the speed limit, 68 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. Crash data and video from the forward looking camera show the car made no evasive maneuvers.

The details from the March 1 crash, are very similar to an Autopilot crash in 2016, where a Model S with Autopilot engaged, traveling on a similar highway near Gainesville, Florida, also struck a tractor trailer as it was crossing the road, and sheared the top off the Tesla. That driver was killed in the impact, too.

After the 2016 crash, Tesla wrote in its blog titled "A Tragic Loss", "neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied."

Today, Tesla released a statement that says in part:

"Autopilot was first engaged by the driver just 10 seconds prior to the accident, and then the driver immediately removed his hands from the wheel...Tesla drivers have logged more than one billion miles with Autopilot engaged, and our data shows that, when used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance."

Neil Weigel, a Tesla Model X owner in San Jose, upon hearing the news about the March 1 crash, says Autopilot is helpful, but warns drivers not to get overconfident.

"I don't trust it 100 percent, of course not," said Weigel, "I use it everyday. I drive from here to LA and I use it all the time. But I never get my hands off the wheel. You gotta just keep that hand on the wheel."

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