Tesla sued for up to US$20 million by Texas police after 110km/h smash

CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly defending the company's Autopilot system.
CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly defending the company's Autopilot system. Photo credit: Supplied

Five police officers in Texas are suing Tesla after they were injured by a car allegedly being driven by its Autopilot system.

The officers are seeking damages "for the severe injuries and permanent disabilities they suffered as a result of the crash", the lawsuit says.

They are seeking between US$1 - 20 million, including punitive damages because the crash was "reasonably foreseeable and could have been avoided, but for the defects in Tesla's safety features, including Autopilot".

The officers also want the company "to publicly acknowledge and immediately correct the known defects inherent in its Autopilot and collision avoidance systems, particularly as those impact the ongoing safety of our nation's first responders".

According to the lawsuit, in February this year a Tesla Model X with Autopilot on crashed into the police officers at a traffic stop in Houston. They had pulled over a car and were conducting a drug search when the Model X barrelled into a service vehicle at around 110km/h.

That pushed the cars into the officers as well as the driver who had been pulled over. And it's not the first incident of its kind.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US announced in August 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 accident involving a first responder happened just days after the probe had been announced.

Despite its name, Autopilot isn't autonomous and Tesla states drivers must agree to keep hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicles before enabling the system.

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.

And that has been pounced on by a lawyer for the police officers.

"You've probably seen that Elon Musk and Tesla have proudly touted Teslas on Autopilot are safer than your everyday driver, that with Teslas on Autopilot there are fewer accidents than there are otherwise," Tony Buzbee told local news channel KPRC 2.

"But what we've learned is that this information is misleading. The defect that exists is when the police lights are flashing it makes the Tesla on Autopilot not detect the vehicle "

The officers are also suing a local restaurant, after claiming the Tesla's driver was over-served alcohol prior to the accident. The driver was arrested on suspicion of "intoxication assault".