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Another Tesla in Autopilot mode hit an emergency vehicle

Automated systems are here to stay, but the public needs to stay on top of changes and warnings

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Photo (c) jetcityimage - Getty Images
Tesla added to its list of accidents with emergency vehicles over the weekend when one of the company's vehicles hit a parked police cruiser in Florida. This continues to be a developing issue for the automaker because the car was reportedly in Autopilot mode.

The incident further raises concerns about Tesla vehicles that tend to hit vehicles that have flashing lights or are near scenes with flares, road cones, and illuminated arrow boards.

The chain of events

Just before daybreak on Saturday, a consumer driving a Tesla was driving along Interstate 4 in Orange County when they encountered a hobbled Mercedes-Benz that had come to a stop in a travel lane. Right behind the Mercedes was a police car on the scene with its emergency flashers on. The Tesla first plowed into the side of the cruiser, then ran into the parked Mercedes.

"The driver stated that [the Tesla] was in Autopilot mode," said the report from the Florida Highway Patrol.

There were no serious injuries reported, but the Tesla came dangerously close to hitting a Florida state trooper as he left his vehicle to check on the driver of another car that had stopped.

Heads up, Tesla drivers

Regulators say these problems may indicate that the automated system may have difficulty seeing parked emergency vehicles -- particularly after dark. The finding has led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recently launch a probe into Tesla’s automated driving system. 

All told, the number of accidents involving Teslas and emergency vehicles or crash scenes has now eclipsed a dozen. Until the NHTSA solves this puzzle, it asks that Tesla owners using Autopilot mode stay focused and at the ready just in case they need to take over control of the car and avoid veering off towards emergency vehicles or scenes.

"NHTSA reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves," the agency said in a statement. "Every available vehicle requires a human driver to be in control at all times, and all state laws hold human drivers responsible for operation of their vehicles."

Tesla has already sided with the agency's point of view, stating that the Autopilot feature requires "active driver supervision" and does not "make the vehicle autonomous."

Officials work to make things better

The NHTSA fully realizes that autopilot features are the wave of the future, but we’re not to the point where automotive technology can handle the whole task of driving when we don’t want to or can’t do it ourselves. 

The agency has developed an AV TEST initiative that gives automated driving systems developers like Tesla an opportunity to improve their systems -- on real, public roads. The ongoing effort gathers information from states, local jurisdictions, and companies to share with the public.

The advantage for Tesla and other automated vehicle owners is that they can get email alerts when new information is released. Consumers can visit this site to see the results of autonomous vehicle tests or to sign up for updates, it’s just a  away.

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