Driver of a Tesla Watches a Movie and Slams Into Police Car

No car is fully autonomous yet. Although some manufacturers claim their vehicles have autopilot like capabilities, at this time, no mass-market automotive manufacturer has a level 5 autonomous approved car. Right now, systems only aid the driver. They do not remove the driver from the equation. One Tesla driver found this out the hard way. His Tesla Model S impacted something while the car had the autopilot engaged.

Tesla driver may have been lulled by driver-assist features

The term, autopilot, can lull a person into thinking that when the system is engaged, the car will do everything to get its occupant to the desired location. Eventually, that may be true. Right now, the Tesla Model S autopilot system is not that good. That misnomer was discovered too late in a recent accident. 

What happened

Two police officers in North Carolina responded to an accident on Highway 64 in North Carolina. They set up a routine lane closure to enable the investigation and cleanup. Both police cruisers were on the side of the road with their lights flashing. According to our friends at Autoevolution, Devainder Goli had his Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode while traveling on the same roadway. But, Mr. Goli was watching a movie on his phone. According to Skynews, “Devainder Goli’s car hit the deputy’s vehicle first, according to local media. That vehicle then hit the trooper’s car, pushing both officers to the ground.”

Police comments on the Tesla crash

Fortunately, none of the people involved in the accident were injured. Nash County Sheriff, Keith Stone, was a bit shaken though. He said, “It was a simple lane closure and then suddenly death was at our footsteps.” Mr. Goli, however, received multiple charges, including violating the “Move-over” law, a law that requires motorists to vacate the lane where a roadside emergency is active.

The Tesla “Autopilot” name may create misconceptions

The name, “Autopilot” could be creating misconceptions. Referring to automakers and driver-assist systems, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety President, David Harkey, said, “What they name the system has implications for what a driver understands.” Citing a survey from June 2019 with 2,000 survey respondents, he said “Almost half of the survey respondents indicated they would take their hands off the steering wheel, and almost 6 percent thought they could take a nap while the system was in autopilot.”


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Tesla driver-assist systems provide warnings

The Tesla Autopilot system does provide warnings to drivers, but they can be ignored. The screen will actually flash at the driver if their hands have been off the steering wheel too long. If there is no response, the screen will flash again and a beeping sound will try to alert the driver. The beeping becomes more persistent the long the steering wheel is left unattended. If the steering wheel remains untouched, the auto stop will be engaged and the car will slowly come to a stop with the hazard lights engaged. 

It is likely Mr. Goli received the warnings to take reapply his hands to the steering wheel, although unconfirmed at this point. However, Mr. Goli admitted to watching a movie at the time of the accident. So, inattention was definitely the largest contributing factor to the whole event. An event that Mr. Goli probably wished he could do-over. Unfortunately, there is no way to rewind the damage.