Tesla says driver was at fault in fatal Model X accident

  • Tesla has released a new statement about last month’s fatal Model X crash that states the driver’s inattention was the only way the crash could have occurred.
  • The company said the driver knew Autopilot was not perfect.
  • Tesla also said the accident could only have happened because the driver failed to follow the vehicle’s warnings to pay attention to the road.

Tesla said in a statement Wednesday that the only way last month’s fatal Model X accident could have occurred was if the driver was not paying attention.

Tesla also said that the driver, Walter Huang, “was well aware that Autopilot was not perfect.”

The accident, which happened in Mountain View, California, occurred while the vehicle’s semi-autonomous Autopilot software was engaged. Tesla had previously said the driver, Walter Huang, received multiple warnings to put his hands on the wheel in the six seconds before the crash and indicated a shortened impact attenuator increased the damage to Huang and the vehicle. Huang died after being taken to the hospital.

Now, Tesla is stating that Huang must not have been paying attention for the accident to have occurred.

Tesla says the driver was at fault

“We are very sorry for the family’s loss,” a Tesla spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement.

“According to the family, Mr. Huang was well aware that Autopilot was not perfect and, specifically, he told them it was not reliable in that exact location, yet he nonetheless engaged Autopilot at that location. The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so.

“The fundamental premise of both moral and legal liability is a broken promise, and there was none here. Tesla is extremely clear that Autopilot requires the driver to be alert and have hands on the wheel. This reminder is made every single time Autopilot is engaged. If the system detects that hands are not on, it provides visual and auditory alerts. This happened several times on Mr. Huang’s drive that day.

“We empathize with Mr. Huang’s family, who are understandably facing loss and grief, but the false impression that Autopilot is unsafe will cause harm to others on the road. NHTSA found that even the early version of Tesla Autopilot resulted in 40% fewer crashes and it has improved substantially since then. The reason that other families are not on TV is because their loved ones are still alive.”

The driver’s family plans to sue Tesla

Huang’s family disagrees with Tesla’s characterization of the crash and plans to sue the company, according to ABC7 News. Huang’s wife, Sevonne, told the station Huang mentioned Autopilot’s difficulties near the site of the crash multiple times.

“I just want this tragedy not to happen again to another family,” she told ABC7 News.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, which marks the agency’s second investigation this year involving a Tesla vehicle.

The first came in January, after a Model S hit a fire truck in California while Autopilot was activated. The fire truck was parked in the emergency lane on the side of the highway while responding to a prior accident, according to The Mercury News.

In September, the NTSB determined that Autopilot was partly responsible for a fatal 2016 accident involving a Model S.