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Federal investigators are looking into Tesla’s latest autopilot crash in Utah

In this photo released by the South Jordan Police Department shows a traffic collision involving a Tesla Model S sedan with a Fire Department mechanic truck stopped at a red light in South Jordan, Utah. Witnesses indicated the Tesla Model S did not brake before impact.  Police in a Salt Lake City suburb say it’s not immediately known whether a Tesla Model S sedan’s semiautonomous Autopilot driving system was in use when it rear-ended a truck apparently without braking before impact at approximately 60 mph. (South Jordan Police Department via AP)
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation into a crash involving a Tesla Model S that was reportedly in autopilot mode when the accident occurred, according to the agency.

The crash last week in South Jordan, Utah — 20 miles south of Salt Lake City — occurred when the Tesla, traveling about 60 miles per hour, rear-ended a truck stopped at a red light. The driver, who sustained a broken right ankle, told police that her car was in autopilot mode and failed to brake before the violent impact decimated its front end.

The crash is the third accident in recent months that has occurred when a Tesla was in the semiautonomous driving mode. Local police told CNBC that NHTSA representatives had already arrived at the scene of the accident.

“Consistent with NHTSA’s oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, the agency has launched its special crash investigations team to gather information on the South Jordan, Utah, crash.” the agency said in statement Wednesday. “NHTSA will take appropriate action based on its review.”

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A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment on the NHTSA investigation.

Using cameras and radar that can peer 250 meters ahead of a car, Tesla’s driver-assist software is designed to track traffic conditions, keeping vehicles in their lane and changing speeds according to the speed of surrounding cars. For the feature to work, drivers are required to keep their hands on the wheel at all times.

Tesla warns drivers that their autopilot feature cannot detect all objects and may not brake for stationary vehicles. The company claims that’s especially true in situations when a Tesla is traveling over 50 mph and a vehicle in front of the Tesla switches lanes, revealing a stationary vehicle or object in front of the car.

“When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times,” the Tesla spokesperson said. “Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents.”

The 28-year-old driver injured in the Utah crash told police she was looking at her phone at the time of the impact. Police said there was no indication the woman was impaired at the time of the crash, according to the Associated Press.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has repeatedly criticized coverage of the crash, arguing that the media reports disproportionately highlight the dangers faced by Tesla owners. He later conceded that the system could be improved.

Tesla vehicles are the subject of at least two other federal investigations.

In March, a Tesla driver was killed when his Model X crashed on a California highway, unleashing a fire and nearly ripping the vehicle in half. The vehicle was in autopilot mode when it slammed into a median on Highway 101 in Mountain View, Calif.

Last week, the NTSB began investigating an accident involving a Model S that killed two teenagers in Florida after it crashed into a wall.

The agency said the fire, which may have been exacerbated by the vehicle’s battery, is the focus of the investigation, not the vehicle’s semiautonomous system.


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