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Tesla Faces Second NHTSA Probe in Michigan This Month

  • A Tesla operating in Autopilot struck a police car early Wednesday morning in Michigan, officials said via Twitter.
  • The crash is the latest in a string of accidents involving Tesla vehicles that have sparked criticism and investigations by federal safety officials.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has previously embarked on probes into more than a dozen crashes that were thought to involve Tesla's advanced driver assist systems.

DETROIT – Federal vehicle safety regulators opened a new investigation into a second Tesla crash this month after a Model Y that was reportedly operating in Autopilot struck a stationary police car early Wednesday morning in Michigan, according to officials.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration was already investigating an unrelated Tesla collision in Detroit less than a week ago.

"Consistent with NHTSA's vigilant oversight and robust authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies, we have launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash," NHTSA said in a statement to CNBC.

Autopilot is Tesla's driver assistance system that comes standard with all of its newer models.

In the Wednesday crash, a driver in a Tesla who said it was on Autopilot struck an officer's blue Dodge Charger sedan as troopers were investigating a crash between a deer and a different vehicle at 1:12 a.m., according to a post by the Michigan State Police on Twitter. The police car was parked and partially sitting in the right lane of a highway with its emergency lights on, Lt. Brian Oleksyk confirmed in an email to CNBC.

The crash is the latest in a string of accidents involving Tesla's all-electric cars that have drawn criticism from vehicle safety advocates and probes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. This was also the second collision involving a Tesla vehicle in Michigan over the last week.

Officials said no injuries were sustained by the officers or the unnamed 22-year-old driver of the Tesla, who was issued citations for failure to move over and driving with a suspended license. The driver told police the vehicle was operating in Autopilot, according to Oleksyk. The accident occurred in Eaton County, located about 100 miles northwest of Detroit.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The NHTSA has previously opened probes into more than a dozen crashes that were thought to involve Tesla's advanced driver assist systems, including Autopilot.

The most recent probe involved a "violent" crash last week in Detroit of a Tesla sedan and a tractor trailer. Detroit Police Assistant Chief David LeValley said Tuesday at a news briefing "that all indications" are that the Tesla was not in Autopilot at the time of the crash, but the investigation was still underway. He cited statements made by the driver and video showing "evasive maneuvers being conducted just before the crash." The NHTSA and Detroit police have not yet examined data from the vehicle.

Tesla's systems include a standard Autopilot package. A more advanced option marketed as full self-driving is sold today for $10,000. The company's Autopilot and full self-driving technology do not make Tesla vehicles safe for operation without a driver at the wheel. Some customers who purchase the full self-driving option also get access to a "beta" version to try the newest features that are being added to the system before all bugs are worked out.

The systems can control many aspects of the car, but "active driver supervision" is required, according to Tesla's website.

Officials said no injuries were sustained to the officers or the unnamed 22-year-old driver of the Tesla, who was issued citations for failure to move over and driving with a suspended license.
Michigan State Police
Officials said no injuries were sustained to the officers or the unnamed 22-year-old driver of the Tesla, who was issued citations for failure to move over and driving with a suspended license.

Investigators have not yet said whether Tesla's Autopilot, FSD or FSD beta may have contributed to last week's crash in Detroit. However, Tesla vehicles with Autopilot have collided with stationary objects and large vehicles, including tractor trailers and fire trucks, on multiple occasions.

A 50-year-old, Jeremy Beren Banner of Lake Worth, Florida, died when his Model 3 on Autopilot struck the side of a semi-trailer in Florida on March 1, 2019, resulting in the roof of his car being sheared off as it passed underneath.

Tesla's Autopilot system, while it has changed significantly over the years, has been a subject of regulatory scrutiny since 2016 when an owner named Joshua Brown died driving his Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged around Gainesville, Florida. The vehicle also collided with a tractor trailer.

Another federal vehicle safety watchdog that gives recommendations to the NHTSA, the National Transportation Safety Board, recently called for clear and stringent rules for automated driving systems at a federal level. The board has pointed to Tesla's approach to automated driving systems as a reason why stronger safety requirements and clear regulation are needed.

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