Tesla Autopilot Misfires, Model S Crashes into Car at Speed on the I-5

In just a few days, Tesla has come under a lot of pressure for the way it responds to its clients' claims of crashes caused by a malfunction of the vehicles' systems. The first one was a man from Utah who returned to his Model S after leaving it parked for just a few minutes, only to find it had crashed into a trailer on its own account.
Model S Autopilot crash 1 photo
That's his side of the story, at least. Tesla thinks otherwise and says that by studying the car's logs, it became apparent the Summon feature was activated just before leaving the car. Since we have the word of one man against that of a company, the only way to solve this is in court, where they can both come up with the necessary evidence and settle the matter once and for all.

But Tesla's lawyers might have to make more than just one trip to the courthouse, this time closer to the company's headquarters. In a new, unrelated incident, a woman from California was involved in a crash on the I-5 North of Los Angeles, and she blames the Autopilot for it.

Arianna Simpson had the Autopilot function of her Model S engaged when a car in front of her braked all the way to a complete halt. She says there was plenty of space and time for her vehicle to do the same thing, but since she was cruising autonomously, she decided not to intervene. When she finally realized the system wasn't slowing down at all, she applied the brakes herself, but it was too late and crashed into the car in front at about 40 mph (65 km/h).

Naturally, Mrs. Simpson blames the car for the incident. She was promised carefree highway cruising by using the Autopilot and, instead, she received a botched-up front end for her car. Tesla, on the other hand, isn't so convinced it should take responsibility. In a statement for Ars Technica, it basically said that Autopilot is still great (“the most advanced such system on the road”), but it shouldn't be trusted blindly.

Safety is the top priority at Tesla, and we engineer and build our cars with this foremost in mind. We also ask our customers to exercise safe behavior when using our vehicles. Since the release of Autopilot, we’ve continuously educated customers on the use of the feature, reminding them that they’re responsible for remaining alert and present when using Autopilot and must be prepared to take control at all times.

“Tesla Autopilot is designed to provide a hands-on experience to give drivers more confidence behind the wheel, increase their safety on the road, and make highway driving more enjoyable. Autopilot is by far the most advanced such system on the road, but it does not turn a Tesla into an autonomous vehicle and does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.

While one would tend to agree with Tesla in principle, if what Mrs. Simpson says is true, then this raises some huge question marks about how efficient the system is. There are adaptive cruise control systems you can find on cars such as the Volkswagen Golf, for example, that would have prevented such a crash, and they don't come with self-driving claims.

Understandably, Arianna Simpson isn't very happy with the company's response (again, assuming her account of the incident is exact). She says she's always been “super pro-Tesla and self-driving things in general,” and that Tesla has been “pretty awful throughout the process.”

Will this be enough to put people off trying the Autopilot features? Probably not, but it does show that you should indeed always be on your feet, and until you have to accept an EULA saying you are liable for everything that happens while using the Autopilot, you should never fully trust the system. Unless, you know, you like gambling with your life.

It will be interesting to see how situations like these will be handled once Volvo puts out its similar system in the upcoming years. The Swedish brand has announced it will be taking full responsibility for every damage caused to the car while its self-driving systems are in use, even though there will probably be an asterisk there somewhere too.


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