Tesla Implies Latest Autopilot Crash Was User Error, Again

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A Tesla Model X driver involved in a Montana crash earlier this month put the blame on the car’s Autopilot capabilities, later claiming that Tesla was trying to cover up issues with the system. But a public response by the manufacturer suggests that the car isn’t the one with the piloting issues.

The original understanding about the wreck was that the Model X crashed into a guardrail during the night hours, reportedly with Autopilot engaged. An account of the crash said that the car failed to detect wooden stakes on the road and lost a tire at 60 mph, hitting a guardrail and leaving the car “completely destroyed.”


Both occupants were OK following the wreck. Tesla later shared data that the car had its Autosteer feature enabled before the crash, but suggested the driver’s hands weren’t on the steering wheel. Driver-assist technologies like Autopilot require a periodic tap of the wheel in order to ensure the driver is still attentive, and the statement added that Tesla “advises against using Autosteer on high speeds or undivided roads such as the one in the Montana crash.”

The driver, identifying himself as “Mr. Pang,” wrote an open letter to Tesla in response to the crash itself and their assessment of it. Mr. Pang claimed that Tesla issued their conclusions on the crash before attempting to contact him, that the company was not interested in learning why the system sent him into a barrier, and that it tried to “cover up the lack of dependability of the autopilot system.”


But Tesla claimed that they have been trying to contact Mr. Pang, using a Tesla employee fluent in Mandarin. The parties apparently spoke through a translator on the Monday morning following the crash to discuss the wellbeing of both Mr. Pang and the passenger, according to the post, but could not reach him on later attempts to discuss the crash itself.

Mr. Pang said in the open letter that he was “willing to talk to Tesla concerning the accident anytime, anywhere, in front of the public” about the wreck, but that’s not what Tesla said to have occurred when they reached out again.


The Tesla statement posted on the Tesla Motors Club forum said the company was able to contact Mr. Pang’s wife after the first discussion, but was unable to reach him for a follow up on several occasions—before the release of the crash assessment and after.

Here’s a breakdown of Tesla’s understanding of the wreck, as posted on the forum:

As is our standard procedure with all incidents experienced in our vehicles, we have conducted a thorough investigation of the diagnostic log data transmitted by the vehicle. Given your stated preference to air your concerns in a public forum, we are happy to provide a brief analysis here and welcome a return call from you. From this data, we learned that after you engaged Autosteer, your hands were not detected on the steering wheel for over two minutes. This is contrary to the terms of use when first enabling the feature and the visual alert presented you every time Autosteer is activated. As road conditions became increasingly uncertain, the vehicle again alerted you to put your hands on the wheel. No steering torque was then detected until Autosteer was disabled with an abrupt steering action. Immediately following detection of the first impact, adaptive cruise control was also disabled, the vehicle began to slow, and you applied the brake pedal.

Following the crash, and once the vehicle had come to rest, the passenger door was opened but the driver door remained closed and the key remained in the vehicle. Since the vehicle had been left in Drive with Creep Mode enabled, the motor continued to rotate. The diagnostic data shows that the driver door was later opened from the outside and the vehicle was shifted to park. We understand that at night following a collision the rotating motors may have been disconcerting, even though they were only powered by minimal levels of creep torque. We always seek to learn from customer concerns, and we are looking into this behavior to see if it can be improved. We are also continually studying means of better encouraging drivers to adhere to the terms of use for our driver assistance features.


The post from Tesla concluded by saying that the company is still trying to get into contact with Mr. Pang, and asked for him to contact Tesla for any further questions he has.

The full details of Mr. Pang’s letter are here, and Tesla’s response to the matter can be found here.