Tesla Autopilot under scrutiny after another crash into an emergency vehicle

Democratic lawmakers fear the ability of the Tesla Autopilot system has been overstated.
Democratic lawmakers fear the ability of the Tesla Autopilot system has been overstated. Photo credit: Twitter

Just weeks after US car safety regulators opened a formal safety probe into crashes between Teslas and emergency vehicles, another has occurred.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced earlier this month it was investigating Autopilot, the electric car manufacturer's driver assistance system.

It had identified 11 crashes since 2018 where Teslas "have encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles involved with those scenes".

Another can now be added to that list after a weekend smash in Florida.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that a Tesla driving on Interstate 4 crashed into a Florida Highway Patrol cruiser, narrowly missing the trooper who was standing nearby.

They had stopped to help another vehicle and put the emergency lights on shortly before the crash occurred.

Both the Tesla driver, who confirmed Autopilot was switched on, and the driver of the other vehicle suffered minor injuries.

NHTSA had previously investigated Autopilot in 2017 but decided to take no action. The new probe will encompass the 765,000 vehicles with Autopilot in the US built since 2014.

Tesla has also faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers recently, with Senators Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey writing to FTC chair Lina Khan asking for a probe of Tesla for "potentially deceptive and unfair practices".

That's related to Tesla's "misleading advertising of its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features", they wrote.

"Tesla's marketing has repeatedly overstated the capabilities of its vehicles, and these statements increasingly pose a threat to motorists and other users of the road.

"We fear that Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features are not as mature and reliable as the company pitches to the public.

"Tesla drivers listen to these claims and believe their vehicles are equipped to drive themselves - with potentially deadly consequences. At least 11 people have died in fatal crashes with Autopilot activated since Tesla introduced the feature in 2015."

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly defended Autopilot. In April he tweeted that one of his cars, with Autopilot engaged, had a nearly 10 times lower chance of being involved in an accident compared to other vehicles.