Automotive News reports that a Tesla struck a Michigan State Police vehicle that was stationary on a freeway early on Wednesday. According to police, the “Autopilot” driver-assistance system was engaged, and neither the driver nor the system avoided the crash. A police Twitter account indicated there were no injuries. It’s not apparent if the Tesla or driver attempted to slow down to avoid the impact. The driver was also cited for driving with a suspended license, according to the tweet.
The police car, a Dodge Charger, suffered serious damage to the rear driver’s corner. It’s unclear what damage the Tesla suffered, or which model of Tesla was involved, though it appears to be a Model 3 sedan. But this impact comes right on the heels of another troubling incident in Detroit on Monday, in which a Tesla ran through an intersection and became wedged under a tractor-trailer. As Automotive News reports, NHTSA is investigating and Autopilot may be involved.
No car is immune from a crash, even cars with advanced emergency braking systems or fully attentive drivers. But the rash of Autopilot-related Tesla crashes is troubling, and many industry observers lay some blame on Tesla, for both the design of the driver assistance system itself as well as on how it is marketed. Between the Autopilot name (and the forthcoming Full Self Driving option, which Tesla currently sells to customers with the promise of future capability when technology catches up), it isn’t hard to gather the impression that driver attention is not required when the system isn’t engaged.
That is categorically untrue at the time of this writing, however. There are no fully autonomous vehicles available for purchase by the public, and even Tesla’s most advanced system currently available is a driver-assistance system, not a full-blown self-driving, actual autonomous system. It requires an attentive driver be available to resume control at any time, prompted or not. As we’ve said in the past, the system may improve, but the ability to tune out and let the vehicle drive itself is a long ways off.
For now, let this crash serve as yet another reminder that driver assistance systems are an aid, not a replacement for attentiveness. We’re glad no one was hurt in this incident. Be safe out there.
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