A Tesla Model X SUV was involved in an accident in Mountain View, California, on the 23rd of March. Tesla then admitted that its autopilot mode had been activated at the time of the incident. During the accident, the Model X hit the divider, before catching fire and being impacted by two other cars. The driver did not survive.
Tesla had emphasised that its autopilot technology does not prevent all accidents, only make them “less likely to occur”.
The crash, that occurred at 9:27 a.m. on a Friday. Prior to the crash, the autopilot was engaged, with adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to the minimum. Despite several visual and audible hands-on warnings, the driver’s hands were not detected on the steering wheel for the six seconds leading up to the collision.
A clear line of sight to the barrier was obtained at 150m six seconds before the collision. Yet, no action was taken by the driver.
Damage, too, was particularly severed due to maintenance issues. The crash attenuator intended to reduce the impact of a car on the concrete lane divider had been crushed in a prior accident and not been replaced.
It had also emerged that the driver had filed complaints that his Model X had veered to the same divider in question on previous occasions.
This is the second fatality associated with Tesla – the former occurring in a 2016 accident between a trailer truck. In both cases, the driver reportedly did not have hands on the steering wheel. In fact, the driver of the truck had alleged that the driver of the Model S had Harry Potter playing during the crash; an aftermarket portable video player was found in the wreckage.
What’s going to happen to Tesla?
It’s a rough time for autonomous driving technology. Just in the past month, Uber’s autonomous car project was placed on hold following a fatal accident involving a pedestrian.
Tesla’s autopilot systems that are currently deployed in units on the road are not fully autonomous – they are merely meant to assist the driver.
This revelation comes at a low point in Tesla’s trajectory. On Thursday, Tesla had made the drastic move to recall 123,000 Model S vehicles due to issues with corrosion on the power-steering bolt in cold weather. This recall affects half of all its cars that have been sold.
Most worrying is Tesla’s delays with the mass-market Model 3. Despite Musk’s characteristic overestimation of production capacity, multiple delays and production line layoffs had sparked investor panic. A Moody’s report reinforced the gloomy future of electric vehicles further, stating that Tesla “faces liquidity pressures due to its large negative free cash flow and the pending maturities of convertible bonds”. Moody’s had downgraded Tesla’s credit ratings and changed its outlook from “stable” to “negative” following the shocks over the past week.
The company’s shares have declined 22% over the past month.