Tesla's 'autopilot' begins braking for wreck before driver

Phil McCausland | Shamar Walters
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Tesla's new Autopilot system may have saved a Dutch family from turning a high speed car accident into a multi-automobile pileup.

While driving his family home from their vacation in Belgium, Frank van Hoesel's dashboard camera installed on his Tesla Model X caught footage of a car slamming into another vehicle on the Autobahn in Germany directly in front of his family's car.

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The dashboard video seems to show the Tesla issued a warning before the car ahead of Hoesel had hit its brakes. Then, while watching an SUV flipping ominously in front of him and another car careen off to the side of the road, Hoesel found his car slowing down without his help.

"When it happened, when the other cars started hitting the brakes, I also started hitting the brakes, Hoesel told NBC News. "But then the car already was almost stopped."

"The car was quicker than I was," he said.

The video of the Tuesday crash has since gone viral. The footage seems bolster Tesla's new radar technology that accompanies its Autopilot function.

Unlike drivers, the Autopilot system is uninhibited by obstructive views. By bouncing a signal, the radar can "see" ahead of the car in front of the driver and analyze the position of the other automobiles on the road, according to the company.

"I feel pretty safe knowing that the car stopped for us," Hoesel said.

After the accident occurred, Hoesel checked on his wife and kids and then the other two cars. Five people were hurt in the traffic accident, but the injuries were minor, he said.

Hoesel is a pretty open advocate of the Autopilot system, as he told NBC News that he drives in Autopilot about 80 percent of the time since he bought his Tesla three months ago. He's also a self-proclaimed fan of Tesla founder Elon Musk.

Hoesel offered his thanks to Musk, whose company produced the Autopilot system.

"He's part of the reason that our car stopped, so…" Hoesel said before trailing off. "Well not part of the reason — he's the reason."

Tesla Motors did not respond for comment on this incident.

The Tesla autopilot system came under fire earlier this year after a Florida man was killed in a crash in May involving the system.

While driving a 2015 Tesla Model S, Joshua D. Brown, 40, and the car's Autopilot system failed to brake when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of them on the highway.

"Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied," Tesla wrote in a statement at the time. "The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S."

After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began to investigate and Fortune magazine wrote an unflattering piece about the Florida accident, Musk lashed out via Twitter and called the magazine's "BS" and "fundamentally incorrect."

Government regulators are still investigating the crash, though they've released a preliminary report.

NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind said in June that the agency is still bullish on the potential of self-driving cars to reduce the 94 percent of car crashes attributed to human error.

Correction: This story was revised to correct that the Hoesel family is Dutch.