After the July 6 incident when a Tesla car crashed into a parked Walmart trailer, there are fears a recall could be possible. This marks the 37th investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into a Tesla-related incident.
Auto-pilot error suspected in deaths
Around 2 p.m. on July 6, a 2015 Model S operated by a 66-year-old female was traveling south on I-75 below Gainesville, Florida. For an unknown reason, it left the highway. It merged onto the exit ramp for Paynes Prairie Rest Area, which is approximately 10 miles south of the city. It then rammed at speed into a parked Walmart tractor-trailer, which was properly parked in the truck section.
The driver was accompanied by a 67-year-old male; both were traveling from Lompok, California. Their names and relationships were not released due to Florida law. Both were pronounced dead at the scene after being extracted by Gainesville Fire Rescue.
“It came off the exit ramp to the rest area, continued south for a short period, and turned into an easterly direction and that’s at what time we had the collision where the Tesla struck the rear of the tractor-trailer.” – Lt. Patrick Riordan, Florida Highway Patrol public information officer.
The car’s autopilot system, a major selling point of Tesla’s line of vehicles, is suspected, but not confirmed, of being active at the time of the incident. Last year, a Tesla rear-ended a parked Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) vehicle as it was responding to a previous crash on I-4.
NHTSA takes aim at Tesla’s not so safe record
NHTSA is investigating 37 crashes of vehicles that involved automated driving systems going back to 2016. Of those incidents, 30 involved Teslas, including 11 fatal crashes that have killed 15 people.
Last month, the Washington Post reported 273 Teslas were involved in crashes while on autopilot. The numbers, which were published by NHTSA reviewing the prior year from July 1 to May 15, showed Tesla vehicles made up nearly 70% of the 392 crashes.
Last week, new NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff told the Associated Press that the agency is escalating efforts aimed at understanding the risks posed by automated vehicle technology. The study is to determine what rules may be necessary to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
Cliff also noted that automated systems like automatic emergency braking have the potential to save lives.
Is the competition safer than Tesla?
Companies make disclosures to the NHTSA after the regulator issued an order in June 2021 requires immediate reporting of all crashes involving advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and vehicles equipped with automated driving systems being tested on public roads.
Of the remaining number of crashes involving ADAS technology reported by a dozen automakers, 90 of them involved Honda and 10 involved Subaru. Ford Motor Company, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai and Porsche reported fewer than five incidents each.
The added scrutiny for Tesla could not come at a worse time. Elon Musk, Tesla’s infamous founder and CEO, had been using the company’s stock as leverage for a potential buyout of Twitter (which is now “apparently” been terminated). A recall and voluntary deactivation of the self-driving systems that help make his brand popular would be devastating to Tesla’s share price.