Tesla is defending its Autopilot driver-assist technology as federal investigators probe a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model X SUV. The accident happened Friday afternoon on a stretch of highway in Mountain View, California.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday it is investigating the accident, including how the Model X caught fire after the crash and steps to make the vehicle safe before removing it from the accident scene.
While the NTSB said it's unclear if the Model X Autopilot system was engaged prior to the accident, Tesla is defending the technology and its track record in the area where Friday's crash took place.
In a blog post, the company said: "Our data shows that Tesla owners have driven this same stretch of highway with Autopilot engaged roughly 85,000 times since Autopilot was first rolled out in 2015 and roughly 20,000 times since just the beginning of the year, and there has never been an accident that we know of."
Tesla also says the accident was so severe in part because a collision barrier on the highway had either been removed or restricted.
"We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash," Tesla wrote in its post.
The National Transportation Safety Board said two investigators are looking into the accident. It is unclear how long it will take them to conduct their probe, though NTSB investigations typically take 12 to 18 months.
Since rolling out Autopilot in 2015, Tesla has faced criticism the technology may be providing drivers with a false sense of security about taking their hands off the steering wheel.
Following a deadly crash in Florida in 2016 where a Tesla Model S owner died after his car hit a truck while in autopilot mode, Tesla modified the technology to ensure driver's stay engaged periodically while using Autopilot.
An NTSB investigation of that accident concluded the Tesla Autopilot system functioned properly prior to the accident including issuing repeated warnings to the driver to take control of the steering wheel.