The Model X That Crashed in Montana Used Autopilot, But Improperly, Says Tesla

Tesla Model X crash in Montana 1 photo
Photo: Collage of images posted by Eresan
Just to freshen up you memory a bit (even though it happened only two days ago), there was another report of a Tesla vehicle crashing while the Autopilot function was in use. Late Saturday night, a Model X was traveling on a deserted two-lane road when the driver decided to activate the now infamous driving aid feature.
What happened next was pretty unclear, but we do know that the SUV went off-road on its own hitting a few wooden bollards and destroying half of the car in the process. Everyone got out OK, but becoming stranded on an unfrequented road in Montana at 2 a.m. is less than ideal. But the fact you've got something to blame rather than yourself sure made things more bearable for the driver: no need to investigate, Mrs. Angela Lansbury, it was that pesky Autopilot that did it.

Obviously, it was another case of people abusing Tesla's version of an enhanced cruise control with steering assistance system, but drivers tend to forget all those things they clicked "OK" to when the Autopilot was first installed on their car. In their defense, they didn't actually read them. It's not like knowing what the Autopilot can and can't do might save their lives or anything.

Tesla didn't comment immediately after the incident went public, but it has released a statement yesterday that seems to clarify the company's position. Here is the full statement, as published by Electrek:

This vehicle was being driven along an undivided mountain road shortly after midnight with autosteer enabled. The data suggests that the driver’s hands were not on the steering wheel, as no force was detected on the steering wheel for over 2 minutes after autosteer was engaged (even a very small amount of force, such as one hand resting on the wheel, will be detected). This is contrary to the terms of use that are agreed to when enabling the feature and the notification presented in the instrument cluster each time it is activated.

As road conditions became increasingly uncertain, the vehicle again alerted the driver to put his hands on the wheel. He did not do so and shortly thereafter the vehicle collided with a post on the edge of the roadway.

Autosteer, which is enabled via the Driver Assistance tab under Settings, is best suited either for highways with a center divider or any road while in slow-moving traffic. We specifically advise against its use at high speeds on undivided roads.

That said, provided the driver remains alert, it will still be safer than a person driving unaided, as people are sometimes distracted or may become unable to operate the vehicle, due to falling sleep, fainting or experiencing a medical emergency. After either high lateral acceleration from a sharp corner is detected or there is no force on the steering wheel, the vehicle gradually reduces speed, stops and turns on the emergency lights.

So the driver ignored the car's signals to put his hands back on the steering wheel and resume control, which led to the Model X acting as an SUV, going off-road and hitting 13 bollards (as counted by trooper Jade Shope). However, the driver - identifying himself as Pong - told CNN that he doesn't remember getting any alerts from the vehicle. He also said he speaks Mandarin and the vehicle was set to English, so there's that.

But after all is said and done, Pong isn't upset. He says he would still buy a Tesla if given the chance. Hopefully, he did learn at least two things from this expensive mishap: don't use Autopilot on an undivided road with poor markings at night, and set the vehicle's language to Mandarin before anything else.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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