On Sunday, a Tesla owner in California was parking his 5 day old Model X, when the car suddenly leaped forward, jumped over a curb and crashed into a building. The force of the impact was enough to set off the car’s 10 air bags. No injuries occurred, although the driver reported it was a miracle that no one was hurt.
Posting afterwards on the Tesla Motors blog, the owner gave this account of the incident: “Our 5 day old Tesla X today while entering a parking stall suddenly and unexpectedly accelerated at high speed on its own climbing over 39 feet of planters and crashing into a building. The airbags deployed and my wife’s arms have burn marks as a consequence.
“This could have easily been a fatal accident if the car’s wheels were not turned slightly to the left. If they were straight, it would have gone over the planters and crashed into the store in front of the parking stall and injured or killed the patrons. The acceleration was uncontrollable, seemed maximum and the car only stopped because it hit the building and caused massive damage to the building.”
He then called on Tesla to get to the bottom of what happened. “This is a major problem and Tesla should stop deliveries and investigate the cause of this serious accident. Tesla roadside assistance, who was my only contact, asked us to tow the car to AAA storage facility.”
Tesla did indeed investigate. It accessed the vehicle log, downloaded the stored data, and then provided this statement to Teslarati:
“We analyzed the vehicle logs which confirm that this Model X was operating correctly under manual control and was never in Autopilot or cruise control at the time of the incident or in the minutes before. Data shows that the vehicle was traveling at 6 mph when the accelerator pedal was abruptly increased to 100%.
Consistent with the driver’s actions, the vehicle applied torque and accelerated as instructed. Safety is the top priority at Tesla and we engineer and build our cars with this foremost in mind. We are pleased that the driver is ok and ask our customers to exercise safe behavior when using our vehicles.”
The incident is eerily similar to the “sudden unintended acceleration” issues that beset Audi years ago. Several drivers claimed their Audi suddenly went wildly out of control. 60 Minutes did investigative reports. Stories in the media started referring to Audis as “death cars.” The controversy almost put Audi out of business.
What happened here is simple driver error. It happens to all of us at one time or another. The driver stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake. It’s terribly embarrassing. I can attest from personal experience that when a car does something completely unexpected, it takes a moment for our brains to analyze the situation, determine what went wrong, and take corrective action. A Tesla Model X can accelerate to 25 mph in about a second. That’s faster than our brains can respond.
This is precisely the reason why Elon Musk predicts human drivers will be banned at some point in the future — the near future, if you subscribe to his predictions. The real concern with autonomous cars is not with computers that fail but with people who make mistakes. The difference today is that computers are keeping track of our every move and will report our misbehavior in exquisite detail every time we screw up.
Several Tesla drivers have reported malfunctions with their cars in recent weeks. In every instance, the data proved driver error, not software glitches, were responsible. Since April, its computers 3, humans 0.
Photo credit: Teslarati