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Tesla Admits Autopilot Was Engaged Moments Before Deadly Model X Crash

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It's not just Facebook which keeps digging a deeper hole by the day. One week ago, when we discussed the tragic death of a Tesla Model X driver, who seemingly burned to death, trapped inside his flaming vehicle...

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... whose batteries exploded after colliding with a barrier separating the carpools lanes on Highway 101 in Mountain View...

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... we said that the biggest, and most troubling for Tesla shareholders, question was yet to be answered:

it remains unclear if the car's autopilot was engaged when it slammed into the carpool lane divider, resulting in the driver's death.

On Friday night we got the answer, when Tesla finally acknowledged that its autopilot self-driving system was engaged when the Model X electric crossover SUVs crashed one week ago, killing the driver. In the latest troubling indication that Musk is desperate to hide any bad news about his company, the admission only took place after local news reported that the victim had made several complaints to Tesla about the vehicle’s Autopilot technology prior to the crash in which he died.

Tesla said in a blog post on its website that it has been able to deduce from logs recovered from the SUV that the autopilot was engaged, but in hopes of mitigating its liability, it also said that the driver, identified as Apple engineer Wei “Walter” Huang, had his hands off the steering wheel and was not responding to warnings to re-take control for six seconds prior to the crash. It did not say that the Autopilot system was at fault in the accident:

In the moments before the collision, which occurred at 9:27 a.m. on Friday, March 23rd, Autopilot was engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. 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. 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.

In the blog post, Tesla again blamed the complete destruction of the vehicle on the crash attenuator separating the two lanes and which the vehicle exploded upon slamming into:

The reason this crash was so severe is because the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had been crushed in a prior accident without being replaced. We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.

Justifications notwithstanding, Tesla's disclosure is guaranteed to prompt a new NTSB inquiry into the accident, which comes at a time when an Uber self-driving vehicle recently struck and killed a woman walking a bicycle across a street in Tempe, Arizona. The renewed scrutiny will likely set back the self-driving program even further back.  Following the Tesla crash, the agency said it sent two investigators.

The investigation into the fatal #Tesla crash continued today with the #CHP & #NTSB digging through the scorched EV 🎥 https://t.co/rfdgY88bn7 pic.twitter.com/vd2YzFmAZ0

— Dean C. Smith (@DeanCSmith) March 29, 2018

Furthermore, the crash in Mountain View, not far from Tesla's headquarters in Palo Alto, could renew questions about Tesla's Autopilot program, which was also engaged when a Model S sedan crashed into a truck and killed its driver in Florida last year.

In the latest crash, Tesla said Autopilot's adaptive cruise control was in the minimum following distance setting and that the driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning as reminders to keep his hands on the wheel prior to crashing into the center divider.

Sensing which way the wind is blowing, Tesla defended its Autopilot, saying that the first version was found by the government to reduce crash rates by up to 40% and that it's only gotten better since then. It also says Tesla's fatal crash rate on vehicles equipped with Autopilot is 3.7 times better than the national average.

Over a year ago, our first iteration of Autopilot was found by the U.S. government to reduce crash rates by as much as 40%. Internal data confirms that recent updates to Autopilot have improved system reliability.

In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.

Still, as Tesla concluded "Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents – such a standard would be impossible – but it makes them much less likely to occur. It unequivocally makes the world safer for the vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists," although coming at a time when precisely the opposite happened, the impact on Tesla's stock when trading resumes on Monday will be an autopilot in the "down" direction.

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