The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is opening a special crash investigation into a deadly accident involving a Tesla Model Y that smashed into a heavy truck.
The US auto safety regulator is probing the July 19 fatal crash in which the driver of the Tesla died after striking a tractor-trailer truck in Warrenton, Virginia. According to Reuters, NHTSA has reasons to suspect the Tesla was relying on the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system when it plowed into the truck.
The 57-year-old Tesla driver was killed after the tractor trailer was attempting to turn onto a highway from a truck stop, the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office said. The Model Y struck the side and went underneath the trailer, resulting in the driver’s death. The driver of the tractor trailer was issued a summons for reckless driving.
This is the latest in more than three dozen Tesla special crash investigations the NHTSA has opened since 2016 in cases were driver-assistance systems such as Autopilot were suspected of being used. To date, 23 deaths were reported in all these crashes.
NHTSA last month opened another special crash probe into a July 5 deadly crash in South Lake Tahoe, California involving a 2018 Tesla Model 3. The 17-year-old driver of a Subaru Impreza was killed after a head-on collision with the Tesla Model 3. A three-month-old infant who was riding in the Tesla also died several days later from wounds caused by the accident.
The agency typically opens more than 100 special crash investigations annually into emerging technologies and other potential safety issues. These investigations previously helped to develop safety rules on airbags, for example. These investigations are distinct from defect investigations opened by NHTSA to determine if a safety recall is necessary.
In June, NHTSA upgraded to an engineering analysis its defect probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles with Autopilot and crashes with parked emergency vehicles, including fire trucks. The probe was first opened in August 2020.
Tesla’s Autopilot is an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) that can steer, accelerate, and brake cars automatically within their lane; there’s also enhanced Autopilot that can assist in changing lanes on highways. Despite the system’s potentially misleading name, Tesla maintains that Autopilot requires active human supervision at all times.