The US car safety agency said on Wednesday it will send a team to investigate a crash involving a Tesla suspected of being in Autopilot mode when it struck a parked Michigan State Police patrol car.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was sending the Special Crash Investigation (SCI) team in line with its oversight and authority “over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies”.
Tesla did not immediately comment.
Michigan State Police said on Twitter a parked patrol car was struck at 1.12am on Wednesday, while investigating a traffic crash between a car and a deer near Lansing on Interstate-96.
“While investigating that crash with their emergency lights on, a Tesla on Autopilot strikes the patrol car,” the agency said. No one was injured and the 22-year-old Tesla driver was issued traffic citations.
Before this week, NHTSA previously launched at least 14 SCI teams following Tesla crashes that were suspected of being tied to its Autopilot driver assistance system. The agency has taken no action as a result of those probes.
On Monday, NHTSA said it was sending another SCI team to investigate a “violent” 11 March crash in Detroit in which a Tesla became wedged underneath a tractor-trailer and left a passenger in critical condition.
Detroit police said Tuesday they do not believe that Autopilot was in use in the 11 March crash based on “all indications”.
Autopilot has been engaged in at least three Tesla vehicles involved in fatal US crashes since 2016. Concerns have grown about systems that can perform driving tasks for extended stretches with little or no human intervention, but cannot completely replace human drivers.
Tesla advises drivers they must keep their hands on the steering wheel and pay attention while using Autopilot. However, some Tesla drivers say they are able to avoid putting their hands on the wheel for extended periods when using Autopilot.
In February 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board sharply criticised Tesla’s lack of system safeguards in a fatal 2018 Autopilot crash in California. — Reported by David Shepardson, (c) Reuters