NHTSA investigates deadly Tesla crash in southern California

The Chinese-built Tesla Model 3 will be unveiled on November 22, 2019 in a Tesla store in Shanghai, China.

Zhang Hengwei | China News Service | Visual China Group | Getty Images

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is launching a new Tesla vehicle crash investigation after a Model 3 driver died at the crime scene after colliding with an overturned semi in Southern California earlier this month. In total, NHTSA has launched 29 Tesla-related crash investigations, of which 25 are currently ongoing.

An NHTSA spokesman said in an email to CNBC:

“NHTSA is aware of the incident involving a Tesla vehicle near Fontana, Calif., On May 5. We have initiated a special investigation into this crash. NHTSA continues to monitor the safety of all vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies and Lever SCI where appropriate. “

Separately, the California Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.

The driver was Steven Michael Hendrickson, 35, from Running Springs, California. Hendrickson has regularly posted on his social media accounts to demonstrate the technical features of his Model 3.

Police and the NHTSA have not completed their full investigation, nor have they indicated what factors may have contributed to the crash, including whether the driver may have relied on Tesla’s driver assistance systems – which are marketed as autopilot, full self-driving become. or FSD Beta – before the collision.

The Tesla Autopilot and FSD are unable to control the company’s electric vehicles in all normal driving conditions, and the company’s manuals advise drivers not to use them under “active supervision.” However, Tesla CEO Elon Musk frequently touts how advanced these systems are compared to competitors, saying Tesla should be able to deliver a truly driverless or “level 5” vehicle this year.

NHTSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, may issue mandatory vehicle recalls if it deems a vehicle design or parts and systems in a vehicle to be unsafe. The other federal agency investigating accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board, is not joining NHTSA on that investigation.

The Fontana crash followed another collision in Spring, Texas, in April, in which police first told local news outlets that there was no driver behind the wheel at the time of the crash. Investigations into the cause of the collision are still being carried out by the NTSB and NHTSA.

This case drew the attention of federal vehicle safety agencies along with elected officials such as Representative Kevin Brady (R-Tx.) And Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) And Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.) On yourself.

The Senators are keen to make driver monitoring systems mandatory for vehicles with advanced driver assistance or other automated driving systems such as Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD, GM’s Supercruise or Ford’s Copilot 360.

A driver monitoring system tracks whether the driver remains alert on the road, hands on the steering wheel and in the driver’s seat, where they can take over the task of driving instead of relying too heavily on the vehicle’s systems.

General Motors, Subaru, and BMW already have camera-based driver monitoring systems, and others like Ford Motor have announced similar plans. Newer Tesla electric cars have cabin cameras, but according to the operating instructions, these are not used for driver monitoring. In Tesla’s cars, the driver has to “check in” by touching a steering wheel equipped with a sensor.

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