Tesla Model S was on Autopilot, Utah driver tells police

Marco della Cava
A Tesla Model S at a charging station in Beijing, China.
Meghan Reeder | CNBC

A Tesla Model S that crashed into a stopped fire truck at high speed was operating in Autopilot mode, the driver of the car told Utah police officials Monday.

Tesla says it continues to work with South Jordan police on the investigation, and has not yet released details of the incident based on the car's computer logs.

The driver of the vehicle, a 28-year-old woman from Lehi, Utah, slammed into the truck in South Jordan on Friday. The woman also told police she was looking at her phone prior to the collision, and estimated her speed at 60 mph, which is consistent with eyewitness accounts, according to South Jordan police officials.

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The result was an accordioned front end for the electric car, but only a broken foot for the driver, according to a statement late Monday from South Jordan Sgt. Sam Winkler. The driver of the United Fire Authority mechanic truck was checked for whiplash and was not checked into the hospital.

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A Tesla spokesperson said the company's previous response to the crash still stood, which noted that Autopilot — a semi-autonomous system that works like a souped up cruise control — requires constant vigilance and is not meant to take over driving responsibilities while drivers focus on other chores.

Winkler said that South Jordan police was continuing to investigate the crash, and would be working with Tesla to gather vehicle information from the Model S's computers over the coming days.

Eyewitness accounts indicate the Model S did not slow down as it rammed into the back of the truck, which was stopped at a traffic light in the far right lane.

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Autopilot has been in the crosshairs of federal crash investigators, dating back to a 2016 crash of Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode that killed its driver after the car failed to stop for a tractor trailer that cut across its path.

More recently, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were called into to review details of a March crash that saw a Tesla Model X slam into a highway divider in Mountain View, Calif. The driver died.

Tesla has said the driver ignored the car's warnings to take back control of the car, while his family is considering suing on the grounds that Tesla ignored the driver's previously raised concerns about Autopilot acting up on that same stretch of Silicon Valley highway.

NTSB and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials also are investigating a recent Tesla Model S crash in Florida in which two teens died and one was injured.

The car hit a concrete barrier at high speed in a residential neighborhood and burst into flames. Autopilot is not thought to be a factor, but investigators are looking into the ensuing battery fire.

Just prior to Utah police announcing that Autopilot had been in use according to the car's driver, Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted a series of tweets that played up the safety of his car.

@elonmusk tweet

@elonmusk tweet

"What's actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60mph and the driver only broke an ankle," Musk tweeted (although initially reported as an ankle injury, South Jordan officials said the injury was a broken foot). "An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death."

Musk also lamented media coverage that he said glossed over the 40,000 annual U.S. road deaths, and acknowledged that while no technology is perfect "a system that, on balance, saves lives & reduces injuries should be released."

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