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Tesla Blames Driver for Crash, Not Its Autopilot

The Tesla Model X.The Tesla Model X.
The Tesla Model X.Courtesy of Tesla

Tesla is once again in a debate over whether its car Autopilot feature is to blame for a recent crash.

A new owner of Tesla’s (TSLA) Model X SUV claimed this week that it unilaterally accelerated and smashed into a building in Irvine, Calif. while using its semi-self-driving feature. He said that his 45-year-old wife was trying to park at the time.

“Our 5 day old Tesla X today while entering a parking stall suddenly and unexpectedly accelerated at high speed on its own climbing over 39 feet of planters and crashing into a building,” he told Electrek, a blog that tracks the electric-vehicle market. “The airbags deployed and my wife’s arms have burn marks as a consequence.”

He continued: “This could have easily been a fatal accident if the car’s wheels were not turned slightly to the left. If they were straight, it would have gone over the planters and crashed into the store in front of the parking stall and injured or killed the patrons.”

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Tesla, however, has a much different story. The company was able to analyze the vehicle in question using its onboard “black box” that stores anonymous driving data. It said that the SUV was not actually in Autopilot mode and that the crash was actually the driver’s fault, a Tesla spokesman said in a statement.

“We analyzed the vehicle logs which confirm that this Model X was operating correctly under manual control and was never in Autopilot or cruise control at the time of the incident or in the minutes before,” the spokesperson said. “Data shows that the vehicle was traveling at 6 mph when the accelerator pedal was abruptly increased to 100%. Consistent with the driver’s actions, the vehicle applied torque and accelerated as instructed.”

Over the past several weeks, several drivers have claimed that Tesla’s Autopilot has caused crashes. Autopilot is a semi- but not fully autonomous feature in Tesla cars that takes over some of the driving. It automatically steers within a lane, controls speed, avoids collisions, and parallel parks.

In May, a driver in Europe said that he was using Autopilot without trouble until it suddenly accelerated and smashed into a parked car in front of it. He posted a video of the accident online.

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That claim came after another Tesla owner last month said that his Model S smashed its windshield against an overhanging trailer after he had used the car’s Summon feature, which lets users have their parked car automatically drive to them or to park itself.

In both instances, Tesla said that its vehicles operated correctly and blamed the drivers for the accidents. The company added in a statement that Autopilot is designed to improve driver safety, but “it does not turn a Tesla into an autonomous vehicle and does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.”

The spokesperson on Tuesday echoed that statement, saying that Tesla hopes all of its customers “exercise safe behavior when using our vehicles.”

In the latest case in Irvine, the owner is sticking to his story, telling Electrek in a statement that he believes his wife’s portrayal of the events. He added that his wife “knows the difference between brake and accelerator pedal(s),” and believes she was in Autopilot at the time of the incident.

Once again, neither the driver nor Tesla are backing down from their stories.