Tesla confirms Utah driver engaged autopilot functions before slamming into firetruck

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. The driver

The Associated Press

On more than a dozen occasions, the auto is said to have registered a total absence of hands on its wheel, and twice for periods exceeding a minute in length. The Tesla driver suffered a broken ankle.

That makes at least three the number of federal investigations into Tesla crashes now underway.

"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".

Technicians at the electric-car maker have recovered data from the Model S driven by a 28-year-old woman who crashed her Model S on Friday, police in South Jordan, Utah, Tesla said in an emailed statement. The police cited that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision, according to the South Jordan Police. NHTSA initially put the blame on the driver, Joshua Brown, accusing him of being distracted and not making any effort to avoid crashing into a truck that pulled in front of his Model S. But a separate probe by the NTSB also faulted Autopilot for not recognizing the white truck because it was backlit by a bright Florida sky.

The National Transportation Safety Board also is probing those crashes, in addition to a March fatality in Northern California.

A Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on what steps the company may take following the incident, but reiterated in a statement that the Tesla autopilot feature does not relieve a driver from the responsibility to stay closely engaged with the vehicle's operation.

Now the NHTSA is also announcing that it will investigate the accident, but only for data gathering as a "special crash".

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The driver used Autopilot on a street with no center median and with stop light-controlled intersections, which is "contrary to the proper use" of the system, according to Tesla's report to police. Prosecutors in the southern Swiss region of Ticino are investigating last week's death of a German driver whose Tesla caught fire on the highway after what the company said appeared to be a high-speed crash.

Both of Musk's points are well-taken, but the reality is that Tesla owners still seem to be misusing the company's Autopilot feature. The Autopilot system was engaged in that crash. One even was shown climbing into the back seat.

Because of the technology's limitations, Tesla advises drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel while using Autopilot. And Musk and his former wife were pictured also driving along with their auto being operated hands-free.

But during an earnings conference call this month, Musk indicated a fully autonomous - as in hands-free - version of Autopilot is close to release.

Federal agencies are looking into several other recent collisions involving Tesla vehicles, some of which occurred while the Autopilot semiautonomous driving technology was activated.

"It's really incredibly irresponsible for any journalist with integrity to write an article that would lead people to believe that autonomy is less safe - which might lead people to turn it off and then die", Musk declared.

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