The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration confirmed on Wednesday that it has already deployed a team of special crash investigators that will look into a Tesla Model S crash. The vehicle plowed into a fire department vehicle in Utah while the Autopilot, its semi-autonomous driving system, was turned on.
This is the most recent investigation by federal regulators into the latest accidents that involve Tesla-made vehicles.
The driver of the Tesla Model S is a 28-year-old female, who hit the fire truck from behind at around 60 miles per hour. The police cited that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision, according to the South Jordan Police. Both drivers of the two vehicles sustained minor injuries, based on the police statement.
“Consistent with NHTSA’s oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, the agency has launched its special crash investigations team to gather information on the South Jordan, Utah, crash. NHTSA will take appropriate action based on its review,” NHTSA wrote in an emailed statement.
NHTSA’s special crash team is not the same as the agency’s Office of Defect Investigation. The SCI team gathers various data from basic information that are found in routine police and insurance crash reports as well as comprehensive data from special reports that come from professional crash investigation teams.
The SCI also collects relevant data like vehicle, occupants, injury mechanisms, roadway, and safety systems, which are all obtained from 100 crashes that they will study annually, according to the NHTSA.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board stated that it is not investigating the Utah crash.
“When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times,” said a Tesla spokeswoman. “Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents.”
According to Tesla technicians, the recovered data from the vehicle showed that the driver repeatedly cancelled and re-engaged the Autopilot features. They said that the vehicle registered over a dozen instances of her hands off the steering wheel. Among those instances, the driver had her hands off the wheel twice for more than one minute each time, though her hands came back on only following a visual alert.
Meanwhile, Tesla’s chief executive officer has repeatedly lambasted the coverage of the crash. He argued that the media reports disproportionately stress the dangers by Tesla owners, though later conceding that the system still could be improved.