The First Fatal Tesla Autopilot Crash May Have Happened In China In January

Illustration for article titled The First Fatal Tesla Autopilot Crash May Have Happened In China In January

The crash thought to be the very first fatality involving a car driving semi-autonomously may have actually been the second. The first is alleged to have happened in January of this year, when a Tesla Model S reportedly in Autopilot mode ran into a street sweeper at full speed outside of Hong Kong, killing the occupant.


Tesla is investigating the crash, and told Reuters it has “no way of knowing” if Autopilot was engaged at the time.

The person in the car was 23, and was borrowing the Tesla from his father, according to China Central Television. Investigators have stated that there is no evidence that the car attempted to brake at any point before impacting the street sweeper truck.

There’s dashcam video of the wreck here in this report from China’s CCTV:

The incident can be seen approximately 4:30 into the interview. The conditions appear foggy, but that truck is quite visible.

Here’s the segment of the wreck itself; please keep in mind that this is a wreck that resulted in a fatality, just so you’re warned.


I think it’s important to see this, though, because, as a wreck allegedly involving Autopilot, we need to know the conditions of the incident. It was foggy, but that truck becomes visible from a good distance away, and it does not appear, as the investigators said, that any braking occurred.

The street sweeper was only half in the lane, and half out of the road. This may prove to be an important factor, but at this point we don’t know.


What we do know is that a human could have easily seen this vehicle, and responded. That suggests that Autopilot should be capable of seeing and reacting as well.

A Tesla spokesperson has issued a statement about the incident:

We were saddened to learn of the death of our customer’s son. We take any incident with our vehicles very seriously and immediately reached out to our customer when we learned of the crash. Because of the damage caused by the collision, the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to our servers and we therefore have no way of knowing whether or not Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash. We have tried repeatedly to work with our customer to investigate the cause of the crash, but he has not provided us with any additional information that would allow us to do so.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!:



This is the second accident video that I have seen with a Tesla not “seeing” a vehicle stopped and sticking out partway into a lane. The other one was a low speed crash so no one was hurt, but it seems Musk has another hole to patch in the system to me.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again now. Tesla needs to take this system away from normal people or give them some intense training before allowing them to use the system until it is ready to handle all conditions. A disclaimer is not enough.