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Tesla vehicle in Autopilot mode crashes into fire truck in Utah

The accident may raise further concerns about self-driving car technology

Photo (c) JasonDoiy - Getty Images
Tesla has been dominating the news cycle as of late -- and for all the wrong reasons.

In the most recent incident over the weekend, a Utah woman slammed into the back of a local fire department vehicle while her Tesla Model S’ semi-autonomous Autopilot feature was engaged. The 28 year-old driver admitted to looking at her phone before the crash, despite the company’s mandate that customers remain alert while using Autopilot, and not rely on the system entirely.

While a Tesla spokesperson failed to comment following the accident, the company’s co-founder Elon Musk took to Twitter to note that it was “super messed up” that the latest accident had garnered so much public attention, while accidents involving traditional cars “get almost no coverage.”

South Jordan police reported the vehicle was going 60 mph when it slammed into the back of a fire truck at a red light. The driver of the Tesla, who was taken to the hospital with a broken foot, has yet to be named, and police reported she did not brake before impact of the crash. The driver of the fire truck was evaluated for whiplash but was not checked into the hospital.

“What’s actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60 mph and the driver only broke an ankle,” Musk tweeted. “An impact that speed usually results in severe injury or death.”

Concern builds over self-driving cars

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace and the thought of self-driving cars slowly starts to become a reality, consumers are leery of giving up total control of the wheel.

A survey done as recently as February found that nearly 60 percent of drivers who currently own a connected car said they wouldn’t buy a self-driving car, even if money wasn’t a factor. (A connected car is one that has safety features such as: Bluetooth connectivity, safety sensors, GPS navigation, remote door locks, WiFi, or voice assistance.)

Back in March, an Uber in self-driving mode hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The car had a human safety driver but was in autonomous mode when the accident occurred, and Uber failed to reveal additional details. Following the accident, and much consumer outcry over the safety of autonomous vehicles, Uber and Waymo advocated to have legislation passed that would quickly expand self-driving vehicle testing.

Another blemish for Tesla

While consumers nationwide have reason to be on edge when it comes to the fast-growing self-driving car industry, Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been a hot button issue for some time now, despite the company touting it as “the future of driving.”

Just last week, the NTSB opened an investigation into a case where a fatal Fort Lauderdale crash raised eyebrows, as it was the agency’s fourth active probe into the automaker’s electric vehicles. The 18 year-old driver slammed into a concrete wall, and the vehicle burst into flames, trapping the occupants inside. It was unknown at the time of the accident whether the driver was operating on the Autopilot feature.

Additionally, the NTSB is also looking into a 2016 accident in which the driver of a Tesla slammed into a tractor trailer and died. This past March, the agency opened an investigation after a Mountain View, California man crashed into a highway barrier and the car burst into flames.

The NTSB and Tesla have also been at odds as of late after the agency accused the automaker of releasing classified information regarding one of its investigations while it was still going on.

Looking ahead

Despite the rocky relationship between Tesla and the NTSB, agency spokesperson Keith Holloway said he’s still uncertain as to whether the agency will open an investigation into the accident.

Though Tesla -- and the self-driving car industry -- certainly has a red target on its back as of late, Musk is confident that advanced technology and more diligent work will improve his company’s system.

“It certainly needs to be better and we work to improve it every day, but perfect is the enemy of good,” Musk tweeted. “A system that, on balance, saves lives and reduces injuries should be released.”

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