Tesla Crash in Connecticut Elicits New Warnings About Autopilot Shortcomings

By Chester Dawson | December 10, 2019

Another Tesla Inc. vehicle operating on the carmaker’s driver-assistance system branded as Autopilot has crashed into a parked emergency vehicle, eliciting fresh warnings about the shortcomings of automated technology on public roads.

A Tesla Model 3 sedan hit a parked police cruiser with its hazard lights flashing on a major highway near Norwalk, Connecticut, over the weekend. The collision occurred around 12:40 a.m. local time Saturday, when a highway-patrol vehicle stopped to assist a disabled SUV in the left-center lane of Interstate 95, according to a Connecticut State Police report.

“When operating a vehicle your full attention is required at all times to ensure safe driving,” the state police wrote Saturday in a Facebook post. “Although a number of vehicles have some automated capabilities, there are no vehicles currently for sale that are fully automated or self-driving.”

A similar incident last year in which a Tesla Model S slammed into the rear of a fire truck on a Southern California highway triggered an investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. While neither crash resulted in injuries, both raise questions about the use and limitations of advanced driver-assist technology that can struggle to detect stationary objects.

There’s no indication at this time that the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety intends to investigate the latest crash, a spokesman for the agency said in an email. Representatives for Tesla didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Saturday, the 2018 Model 3 was traveling in the same lane as the parked police cruiser, which it hit before continuing on and damaging the bumper of the disabled Jeep. The rear end of the police cruiser and front end of the Model 3 sustained “heavy” damage, but the state trooper was outside the police car at the time of the accident, according to the police report.

The driver of the Tesla told police his car’s Autopilot feature had been activated and he was not facing forward – he was checking on his dog in the back seat, according to the state police’s Facebook post. Police issued him a ticket for first degree reckless driving and endangerment.

Tesla releases quarterly reports that it says indicate drivers using Autopilot are safer than those operating without it. The company also has said the system repeatedly reminds drivers they are responsible for remaining attentive and prohibits the use of Autopilot when warnings are ignored.

(With assistance from Ryan Beene.)

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