Tesla says Autopilot was engaged during Model X fatal crash

Tesla recently released an update confirming that Autopilot was activated on the ill-fated Model X when the SUV crashed into a concrete barrier last Friday near Mountain View, CA.

According to the company’s update, the Model X’s Autopilot was engaged with the car’s adaptive cruise control set to minimum in the moments leading up to the crash. Tesla also noted that the Model X’s driver received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier on in the drive. The driver’s hands were not detected on the steering wheel for 6 seconds before the accident occurred as well.

Ultimately, Tesla stated that the driver of the ill-fated Model X had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider before the accident took place. Logs from the electric SUV, however, revealed that no action from the driver was taken.

Tesla also highlighted that the absence of a crash attenuator — a highway safety device designed to absorb the impact of a collision — was a key reason why the fatal Model X crash was so severe. Tesla noted that it has “never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.”

As we noted in a previous report, the crash attenuator, better known as a crash cushion, was destroyed in a vehicular accident 11 days before the fatal Model X crash. This is in line with an image that Tesla provided on its first blog post about the incident, when the company showed a picture of the damaged crash cushion a day before the Model X’s collision. 

Local news agency ABC7 News was able to get in touch with the driver of the vehicle that collided with the crash cushion 11 days before the Tesla accident. According to the news agency, the previous crash involved James Barboza, who was driving a 2010 Toyota Prius at 70 mph. Barboza walked away from the crash with lacerations on his face and complaints of pain all over his body. The Toyota Prius driver was eventually arrested for driving under the influence.

In a statement to ABC7, Steven Lawrence — a lawyer who specializes in highway safety — stated that the crash cushion, which could have saved the Model X driver’s life, should have been repaired long before the accident. According to Lawrence, 11 days is far too long to fix a crash cushion, especially in areas where the Model X accident took place.

“Some states have as short as a 3-day repair time for high traffic locations. And if you look at the material in California, this thing should have been repaired within a week. Again, there are a lot of questions about what happened and what went wrong, but it should have been repaired in under 11 days.” Lawrence said.

CalTrans issued a statement to the local news agency on Thursday, addressing the delay in its repair of the road safety device. While CalTrans admitted that the crash cushion should have been repaired within 7 days after the 2010 Prius collided with the crash attenuator, the agency noted that storms in the area delayed the repair.

“Once our Maintenance team has been notified, the Department’s goal is to repair or replace damaged guardrail or crash attenuators within 7 days or 5 business days, depending on weather. These are guidelines that our Maintenance staff follow.

“However, as in this case, storms can delay the fix. In this incident, as soon as maintenance was aware of the damaged attenuator, efforts were made to place cones or safety barricades at the site, and the replacement work was scheduled.”

As noted in a previous report, the Tesla Model X has a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), due to its safety features such as its 12-airbag system and its huge crumple zone. Roughly 85,000 successful Autopilot trips have been done by Tesla owners in the same stretch of road as the ill-fated Model X since the driver-assist feature was introduced in 2015, with around 200 trips being conducted every day.

Tesla says Autopilot was engaged during Model X fatal crash
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