Officials Find Cause of Tesla Autopilot Crash Into Fire Truck: Report

A 28-year-old Utah woman broke her ankle after her Tesla walloped the back of a stationary fire truck at 60 MPH. Investigators now know what happened.

byJames Gilboy|


A 28-year-old woman switched on the Autopilot driver assist suite in her Tesla Model S, pulled out her phone, and crashed into a stationary fire truck last week, which resulted in a broken ankle, according to a recent investigation. 

Local law enforcement and technicians from Tesla agreed to cooperate to determine the cause of the accident, and on Wednesday, the South Jordan Police Department published the findings of Tesla's probe into the car's computer, which revealed the car's activities in the minutes leading up to the crash. 

The Drive was on the SJPD's shortlist of recipients for its investigation-concluding press release, and we have summarized its findings below.

During the driver's trip, she reportedly toggled Autopilot and active cruise control on and off on multiple occasions and modified the vehicle's cruise speed at varying points. On more than a dozen occasions, the car is said to have registered a total absence of hands on its wheel, and twice for periods exceeding a minute in length. She then allegedly only placed her hands back on the wheel after being cued to do so by the automobile, both times removing them again after the alert went away.

According to the release, 82 seconds prior to the crash, she again activated Autopilot and adaptive cruise control and removed her hands from the wheel within two seconds of activation. For the next 80 seconds, the Tesla continued at her preselected speed of 60 mph, her hands still off the wheel. Against eyewitness reports, the car's computer did reportedly register brake pedal application, as well as her hands' return to the wheel, but the reaction was too little, too late.

A broken ankle and a traffic citation for failure to keep proper lookout serve as the driver's comeuppance for neglecting to keep attention on the road. For Tesla, the incident may not be over as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened its own investigation into the crash.

Tesla registers data suggesting Autopilot use decreases after high-profile accidents such as this, but due to the driver's self-admitted use of her phone during the minute leading up to the crash, responsibility for the collision is apparently cut and dry. As is standard with Autopilot, Tesla owners must remain accountable and otherwise are issued a reminder by the SJPD and Tesla: Drivers are still responsible for their vehicles, even while driving with automated assists.

"As a reminder for drivers of semi-autonomous vehicles, it is the driver’s responsibility to stay alert, drive safely, and be in control of the vehicle at all times," stated Police Sergeant Samuel Winkler, in the SJPD's press release. 

"Tesla makes it clear that drivers should always watch the road in front of them and be prepared to take corrective actions. Failure to do so can result in serious injury or death. Check with the vehicle’s owner manual to determine if this technology can be used on city streets or not," he said.

Car TechNews by BrandSelf-Driving TechTesla News