Once again, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is making headlines for less than stellar reasons. When Musk isn’t saying something outrageous on Twitter, he might be feuding with a politician or making a wager to end world hunger. However, this time Musk is in the news due to a fatal Tesla crash.
Elon Musk might be called as a witness in a trial over a fatal Tesla crash
For the first time, a court trial will determine if EV maker’s Autopilot driving assist technology was a factor in a fatal Tesla crash. According to a report in Automotive News, lawyers representing the family of Jeremy Banner, who was killed in 2019 when his Tesla Model 3 crashed into a semi-truck on a highway in Florida, have included Elon Musk on a list of potential witnesses.
Making things even more tense for Musk is the fact that the family also hired Mary “Missy” Cummings. Cummings has been a professor at Virginia Tech, MIT, and Duke University. She was also recently tapped by the Biden administration to serve as a Senior Safety Advisor at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In addition to her impressive credentials, she has also been a public critic of Tesla, Autopilot, and the Full Self-Driving Beta program.
After Cummings was appointed to work with the NHTSA, Musk took to Twitter and accused her of being “extremely biased against Tesla.”
After her appointment to the NHTSA, Cummings was at the receiving end of harassment and even death threats from over-zealous Tesla fans. The bullying was so severe that she deleted her Twitter account.
The NHTSA is already investigating Tesla for multiple crashes
While this court trial is the first that will leave a jury to decide if Autopilot was a factor in a Tesla crash, it would not be the first time that the automaker faced scrutiny over the driving assist technology.
The NHTSA is already investigating the automaker over several crashes in which it was suspected that Autopilot was engaged. The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) is also investigating at least two crashes, one in Texas and another in Florida. In both cases, a Tesla collided with a tree and burst into flames. Autopilot was suspected to be in use in both incidents.
However, the NTSB recently updated its investigation into the crash in Texas, stating that according to its findings, both the driver and passenger seats were occupied at the moment of impact.
Those findings contradict witness statements from police that said both occupants were in the back seat when the vehicle crashed.
Tesla recalled 12,000 vehicles due to pressure from the NHTSA
When Tesla launched its Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta program to select users, the NHTSA was not happy that the automaker was running a beta test on public streets. At one point, Tesla had to pull an FSD software update after users reported that their vehicles would unexpectedly apply the emergency braking system.
Less than 24 hours after uninstalling the software, Tesla released an over-the-air update to the FSD software to fix the issue.
However, considering the number of vehicles affected and the nature of the defect, the NHTSA asked Tesla why it had not filed a recall over the software issue. The safety agency gave the automaker until November 1st, 2021, to respond or face fines of over $100 million. During Halloween weekend Tesla filed a recall targeting 12,000 vehicles running the FSD software.
If another Tesla crash occurred due to that software glitch, chances are the NHTSA would have put even more pressure on the automaker.
If Elon Musk is forced to take the stand and defend Tesla Autopilot against Missy Cummings, it could have drastic implications for the automaker’s future.