After the driver of a Tesla Model X died in a fiery crash on a Bay Area freeway last week, federal and local authorities are investigating what happened.
The crash on Highway 101 near Mountain View, California, last Friday looked gruesome with the front half of the electric SUV destroyed in the crash and subsequent fire.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Christopher O’Neil said in a phone call Thursday that the federal agency was investigating the crash, mostly looking into the fire after the crash and how the vehicle was transported and removed from the scene.
He said the NTSB would be “interested” in knowing if Tesla’s autopilot mode was in use leading up to the crash, but its field investigation didn’t have any updated information on whether that was the case.
Tesla said this week it was still working on retrieving the vehicle’s logs from an internal computer. Severe damage has made it difficult to review what happened in the car and on the road before the fatal accident.
But Tesla, in a post about the accident, defended its autopilot feature even though the semi-autonomous driving mode hasn’t been confirmed as a factor in the crash. Based on user data, Tesla drivers on the same part of the highway where the crashed occurred have used autopilot mode about 85,000 times since 2015 — that’s 20,000 times since the beginning of this year. Tesla said it doesn’t know about any accidents.
Tesla also explained that the investigation is more focused on the highway road barrier. “The reason this crash was so severe is that the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had either been removed or crushed in a prior accident without being replaced,” the electric car company wrote.
A fatal Tesla crash investigation in Florida in 2016 cited an “over-reliance” on Tesla’s automated feature. A driver in another Tesla crash in Los Angeles earlier this year was also in autopilot mode.