Tesla Driver in Utah Crash Says Autopilot Was Engaged

Elon Musk poses with a Tesla outside the company’s factory in Silicon Valley October 2011

Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot system is supposed to detect nearby cars and objects to avoid collision, but the company said the feature shouldn't be used on roads with intersections, stop signs, red lights or suddenly changing traffic patterns, according to the auto maker's user manuals. The company says when the system is engaged their cars can automatically change lanes, steer, park and brake to help avoid collisions.

"In the wake of this violent impact, the lithium ion batteries could have provoked a process known as "thermal runaway", that is, a rapid and unstoppable increase in temperature", said Bellinzona police in a Facebook post on Monday.

Responding to a user who indicated that Tesla's autopilot function still needs safety tweaking, Musk stated: "It certainly needs to be better & we work to improve it every day, but flawless is enemy of good".

On Twitter, co-founder Elon Musk said it was "super messed up" that the incident was garnering public attention, while thousands of accidents involving traditional automobiles "get nearly no coverage".

On Friday night a Tesla Model S sedan traveling at about 97km/h smashed into a fire engine that was stopped at a red light about 30 kilometres south of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Tesla driver, who claimed to be using the autosteer feature, was transported to hospital with a broken right foot, while the driver of the vehicle that was hit was checked for injuries related to whiplash but not admitted for further checks.

"What's actually fantastic about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60mph and the driver only broke an ankle".

Complicating Tesla's problems, however, have been reports of a series of recent crashes that have resulted in several deaths and injuries.

Police said they had been in contact with the National Transportation Safety Board about the crash.

Just last week, the NTSB opened an investigation into a case where a fatal Fort Lauderdale crash raised eyebrows, as it was the agency's fourth active probe into the automaker's electric vehicles.

Two 18-year-olds were trapped in the vehicle and killed in the flames.

The crash, in which the Tesla driver was injured, comes as federal safety agencies investigate the performance of Tesla's semi-autonomous driving system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during an event to launch the new Tesla Model X Crossover SUV on September 29, 2015, in Fremont, California. The driver in that incident died.

Musk said "the probability of an accident with autopilot is just less", and he insisted the vehicle had functioned exactly as it was created to in the California crash.

In his e-mail to staff, Musk said Tesla was "flattening the management structure to improve communication", combining functions and trimming activities "not vital to the success of our mission" in the reorganisation. A driver was behind the wheel of the test vehicle in that case but failed to halt in time. It is unclear if it will now investigate the Utah incident, as well.

The Tesla's airbags were activated in the crash, South Jordan police Sgt. Samuel Winkler said Saturday.

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