California Crash Victim posted videos of driving Tesla on autopilot


The driver of a Tesla involved in a fatal crash that California traffic authorities believed could have operated on Autopilot posted videos on social media of himself driving in the vehicle without his hands on the wheel or his foot on the pedal.

The May 5 accident in Fontana, a town 50 miles east of Los Angeles, is also under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The investigation is the 29th case involving a Tesla that the federal agency has probed.

In the Fontana crash, a 35-year-old man identified as Steven Michael Hendrickson was killed when his Tesla Model 3 struck an overturned semi-trailer on a highway around 2:30 a.m.

Hendrickson was a member of the Southern California section of a Tesla club who posted numerous photos and videos to social media of his white Model 3. A video on his Instagram account showed him driving in the driver’s seat without his hands on the wheel or his foot on the pedal as the Tesla cruised the freeway The video included the comment: “Best ride buddy possible takes even annoying traffic for me.”

A GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for his funeral and memorial services says Hendrickson is survived by his wife and two children. A message requesting comment from his wife was not returned.

“Every time we spoke to him he would turn on talking about his kids and adore his Tesla,” Tesla Club-SoCal said on Instagram. “He was truly an amazing human being and he will be missed!

Another man was seriously injured when the electric vehicle struck him while helping the semiconductor conductor out of the wreckage.

The CHP said Thursday that its preliminary investigation had determined that Tesla’s partially automated driving system called Autopilot “was on” before the crash. The agency said it was commenting on the Fontana crash because of the “high level of interest” about the Tesla crashes and because it was “an opportunity to remind the public that driving is a complex task. which requires the full attention of the driver ”.

However, on Friday, the agency retracted its previous statement.

“To clarify,” a new CHP statement said, “There was no final determination as to how the Tesla drove or whether it contributed to the crash.”

At least three people have died in previous U.S. crashes involving autopilot, which can keep a car centered in its lane and a safe distance behind vehicles in front of it. Tesla allows a limited number of owners to test its autonomous driving system.

Tesla, which disbanded its public relations department, did not respond to an email seeking comment on Friday. The company states in owner’s manuals and on its website that Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” are not fully autonomous and that drivers should be careful and ready to intervene at all times.

The autopilot sometimes struggled to deal with stationary objects and level crossings in front of Teslas.

In two accidents in Florida, between 2016 and 2019, cars with the autopilot in use drove through semi-trailers, killing the men behind the wheel of the Teslas. In a 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, an Apple engineer driving on autopilot was killed when his Tesla hit a barrier on the freeway.

Tesla’s system, which uses cameras, radar and close-range sonar, also struggles to deal with stopped emergency vehicles. Teslas struck several fire engines and police vehicles which were stopped on the freeways with their flashing hazard lights on.

After fatal crashes in Florida and California, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tesla develop a more robust system to ensure drivers pay attention and limit the use of autopilot to highways where it can operate efficiently. . Neither Tesla nor the security agency acted.

In a February 1 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt urged the department to pass regulations governing driver assistance systems such as autopilot, as well as vehicle testing. autonomous. NHTSA has relied primarily on voluntary vehicle guidelines, taking a practical approach so as not to hamper the development of new safety technologies.

Sumwalt said Tesla uses people who bought the cars to test “Full Self-Driving” software on public roads with limited monitoring or reporting requirements.

“Because NHTSA has no requirements in place, manufacturers can operate and test vehicles virtually anywhere, even if the location exceeds the limits of the AV (autonomous vehicle) control system,” wrote Sumwalt.

He added, “Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that ‘currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,’ NHTSA’s hands-on approach to audiovisual testing supervision presents a potential risk to motorists and other road users.

The NHTSA, which has the power to regulate automated driving systems and to request recalls if necessary, appears to have developed a renewed interest in the systems since President Joe Biden took office.

Associated Press editors Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.


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Tesla California Autonomous Vehicles

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