In a recent development, U.S. auto safety regulators have launched a unique inquiry into a deadly accident in California involving a 2018 Tesla Model 3, believed to have been utilizing advanced driver assistance systems at the time of the incident. The move was announced by the government agency on Tuesday, reports Reuters.
The accident, which took place on July 5 in South Lake Tahoe, claimed the lives of a 17-year-old driver in a 2013 Subaru Impreza following a head-on collision with the Tesla Model 3. A three-month-old passenger in the Tesla tragically succumbed to injuries a few days later, reported the California Highway Patrol.
It’s not the first time the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has set its sights on Tesla. Since 2016, the agency has initiated over three dozen special crash investigations involving Tesla, where systems like Autopilot were suspected to have been in use. To date, these investigations have recorded 22 crash-related fatalities.
Autopilot, as explained by Tesla, is a feature developed to automatically steer, accelerate, and brake vehicles within their lanes. Its advanced version can even assist in lane changing on highways. Tesla, however, underlines the requirement of active human supervision while using this system.
The investigation has revealed that the Subaru was moving at an approximate speed of 55 mph, while the Tesla was traveling at 45 mph at the time of the collision. The Tesla driver sustained severe injuries, while two other passengers in the Tesla experienced moderate injuries.
“There are no charges pending at this time. Vehicle and car seat inspections are currently being done,” informed a spokesperson from the California Highway Patrol.
This marks the first new special crash investigation related to Tesla and the suspected deployment of driver assistance systems since March. Among these was an inquiry into a fatal crash involving a 2014 Tesla Model S and a fire truck in Contra Costa County, California. A local fire department reported that a Tesla had hit one of its fire trucks, leading to the driver’s death on the spot.
Another investigation in March focused on a 2022 Tesla Model Y that collided with and seriously injured a 17-year-old student exiting a school bus in North Carolina.
NHTSA, which annually initiates over 100 “special” crash investigations into emerging technologies and potential auto safety issues, has already taken actions like safety rules on air bags based on its findings. Such investigations are different from defect probes that the agency carries out to determine if safety recalls are required.
In an escalation of its oversight, NHTSA upgraded its defect probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with the Autopilot system in June. This was following accidents involving parked emergency vehicles, including fire trucks. As of earlier this month, NHTSA was seeking updated responses and the latest data from Tesla related to the Autopilot probe.