Deadly Tesla fire truck collision under federal investigation

  • Federal vehicle safety regulators have launched a special accident investigation to determine the cause of a fatal collision between a Tesla Model S and a fire engine in February 2023.
  • The driver of the Model S died, a passenger was seriously injured and four firefighters were taken to the hospital immediately after the crash, according to records from the California Highway Patrol and the Contra Costa County Fire Department.
  • The new research is part of a broader federal investigation into the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot systems and how they perform around parked emergency vehicles.

This photo from the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District shows firefighters at the scene of a fatal accident involving a Tesla and Contra Costa County fire engine on Feb. 18, 2023 in Contra Costa, California.

Contra Costa County Fire Protection District

Federal vehicle safety regulators launched a new, special crash investigation last month into a fatal collision involving a Tesla Model S sedan and a fire truck in Walnut Creek, Calif., CNBC has confirmed.

The driver of the Tesla died, a passenger was seriously injured and four firefighters who were in the fire truck were taken to a hospital after the crash, according to data obtained by CNBC from the California Highway Patrol and the Contra Costa County Fire Department.

The Associated Press first reported on the special investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to fire department records following the Feb. 18 incident, the fire engine was parked in the middle of a highway to protect other first responders who were towing a disabled vehicle out of the area at the time the Tesla vehicle collided with it.

NHTSA and CHP have each opened separate investigations into the crash.

The CHP wrote in a statement following the fatal incident: “It is unclear whether drug or alcohol influence is a factor in this accident. It could not be determined at the scene whether the Tesla was being driven with driver assistance or had automation activated at the time of the crash.”

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Both CHP and NHTSA want to know if Tesla’s driver assistance systems, marketed in the United States as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving options, caused the crash.

All new Tesla vehicles in the US come with a standard driver assistance package called Autopilot. Customers who pay Tesla a monthly subscription fee of $199 or $15,000 upfront can also get additional driver assistance features as part of a premium package called FSD, which stands for Full Self-Driving. Tesla allows FSD customers to also sign up for FSD Beta, which is a way to test new features that haven’t been fully released on the open road yet.

Despite their brand names, Tesla does not make a driverless vehicle or system. The company warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take over steering or braking at any time.

The crash investigation is part of a comprehensive NHTSA probe of Tesla’s driver assistance systems and how they perform around parked emergency vehicles.

NHTSA opened a “preliminary review” of Tesla’s Autopilot systems on August 13, 2021, according to data on the agency’s website. vehicles of roadside or roadside first responders tend to pre-existing crash scenes,” it said.

At least 14 Teslas have crashed into emergency vehicles while using the Autopilot system, according to the NHTSA report.

NHTSA expanded the investigation to a “technical analysis” in spring 2022, to determine whether Tesla’s systems “could exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of driver oversight.”

In layman’s terms, NHTSA is trying to determine whether Tesla’s Autopilot, FSD and other driver assistance features distract drivers enough from the road that they would be safer driving without them.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. NHTSA is not commenting on ongoing investigations.





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