The driver of a Tesla car that failed to stop at a red light and collided with a firetruck told investigators that the vehicle was operating on “autopilot” mode when it crashed, police said.
A Tesla Model S was traveling at 60mph when it collided with the emergency vehicle in South Jordan, Utah, on Friday, causing minor injuries to both drivers, officials said Monday. The Tesla driver’s claim that the car was using the autopilot technology has raised fresh questions about the electric car company’s semi-autonomous system, which is supposed to assist drivers in navigating the road.
The exact cause of the crash, which left the driver with a broken ankle, remains unknown, with Tesla saying it did not yet have the car’s data and could not comment on whether autopilot was engaged. South Jordan police also said the 28-year-old driver “admitted that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision” and that witnesses said the car did not brake or take any action to avoid the crash.
“As a reminder for drivers of semi-autonomous vehicles, it is the driver’s responsibility to stay alert, drive safely, and be in control of the vehicle at all times,” the police department said in a statement.
While driverless technology is expected to make the roads significantly safer by reducing human error and crashes, companies like Tesla are currently in a transition period that some experts say has created unique risks. That’s because semi-autonomous features, research has shown, can lull drivers into a false sense of security and make it hard for them to remain alert and intervene as needed.
After a Tesla autopilot crash in March resulted in the driver’s death, the company issued a series of lengthy statements blaming the victim for “not paying attention”.
On Monday, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk complained about an article on the Utah crash, writing on Twitter: “It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage.”
He also wrote that it was “actually amazing” the collision at 60mph only resulted in a broken ankle: “An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death.”
Musk has on numerous occasions forcefully chastised journalists investigating Tesla crashes, arguing that the unflattering news coverage was dissuading people from using the technology and thus “killing people” in the process. After Tesla recently labeled an award-winning news outlet an “extremist organization”, some critics compared the company’s hyperbolic denouncements of the press to the anti-media strategy of president Donald Trump.