Tesla Confirms Autopilot Was Active During Last Week’s Fatal Model X Crash

Tragedy struck last week for a man and his family in California. The man was driving in his Tesla Model X when the vehicle struck a concrete barrier on Highway 101 near Mountain View -- he died as a result of the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been investigating to determine if the Autopilot feature was engaged, and now Tesla has now confirmed that it was in fact turned on at the time of the accident.

model x driving

Tesla wrote, "In the moments before the collision, which occurred at 9:27 a.m. on Friday, March 23rd, Autopilot was engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken."

tesla model x crash
Image via KGO-TV

According to The Mercury News, the man's family says that he had complained to the local Tesla dealer several times about the Model X swerving towards the exact barrier that he eventually crashed into and died. One glance at the image above and you can see in an instant that the impact was catastrophic.

Tesla wrote, "The reason this crash was so severe is because the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had been crushed in a prior accident without being replaced. We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash."

Tesla spends some time in the blog post pointing out that despite this high-profile, deadly accident, Autopilot is still safe. "In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers," wrote the company. "For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident."

Tesla continued, "No one knows about the accidents that didn’t happen, only the ones that did. The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe. There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year. We expect the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars."

As for the family's claim that the man had reached out to Tesla with concerns about Autopilot on his vehicle, Tesla says that it can find no evidence of that. A Tesla spokesperson does admit, however, that there had been "a concern" raised about the navigation system on the car, but Tesla points out that navigation and Autopilot are unrelated.

Telsa isn't alone in facing criticism over the autonomous capabilities of its cars, Uber was involved in a fatal accident with one of its autonomous cars in Arizona recently. A report after the accident found that Uber was using fewer LIDAR sensors than the competition, which gives it a less complete "picture" of the vehicle's environment while driving.