Feds Open 'Special Investigation' of Tesla Autopilot Crash That Killed Motorcyclist

The car's driver claimed he had Autopilot enabled, and didn't see the motorcyclist.

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Tesla Autopilot, demonstrated in a Model X
Tesla Autopilot, demonstrated in a Model X
Photo: Ian Maddox, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, yet another Tesla hit yet another motorist, yet again killing the person outside the car. As we’ve come to expect, the driver claims Autopilot was activated at the time of the collision. But as this story plays out, time and time again, we’ve started to see a shift in the narrative: Now, these fatal impacts are often accompanied by a federal investigation, and this one is no exception — after this week’s crash in Utah, it seems Tesla will have one more NHTSA inquiry on its desk.

Utah Highway Patrol claims this most recent Autopilot crash took place around 1:10 AM, in the HOV lane of I-15 in Draper, UT. The Tesla, careening down the highway, struck a Harley Davidson in the rear, sending the 34-year-old rider flying off the bike. Police claim the rider died of his injuries at the scene, and that the Tesla’s driver didn’t see the bike.

Much like in California, where this photo was taken, Utah allows motorcyclists unrestricted entry to HOV lanes
Much like in California, where this photo was taken, Utah allows motorcyclists unrestricted entry to HOV lanes
Photo: David McNew (Getty Images)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a “special investigation into the crash, its 39th centered around crashes where Autopilot is believed to have played a role. The agency may want to consider hiring some additional staff soon, as it barely made it one week without opening an Autopilot crash investigation — the last of which also ended with a dead motorcyclist.

With fatalities and investigations piling up, the NHTSA is reportedly considering mandating a recall for Autopilot. The software’s tendency to shut off just one second before impact means Tesla can claim it technically isn’t in control during a crash — despite the car being responsible for the circumstances that made crashing unavoidable. Whether that hardcoded abdication of responsibility holds regulatory water, and will allow Tesla to continue selling its annual promise of full self-driving “next year,” is now up to federal investigators.