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The front grill of a Tesla Model S

Amid Tesla Autopilot Probes, Driver Cited in Pennsylvania Crash

July 12, 2016
Autopilot, which is available on about 70,000 vehicles but is still in beta testing, has come under intense scrutiny after three recently-reported crashes, the most recent in Montana.

Tesla Motors Inc.’s Autopilot technology continues to draw scrutiny, with drivers claiming it was engaged during accidents and a news report that federal regulators are probing a possible securities law violation.

The federal Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing whether Tesla, which sold $1.4 billion in stock in mid-May to pay for expanded production, withheld material information about a fatal crash in Florida earlier in the month, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Pennsylvania State Police cited the driver of a Tesla Model X sport utility vehicle involved in a July 1 crash that may have involved Autopilot technology for careless driving, according to a report released Monday. Meanwhile, another Tesla driver has told Montana police that Autopilot was engaged during an accident that occurred on Saturday.

Tesla’s Autopilot features, which are available on more than 70,000 vehicles worldwide, have come under intense scrutiny in the wake of a fatal accident in Florida. In May, 40-year-old Joshua Brown of Ohio was killed when his Tesla Model S drove under the trailer of an 18-wheeler on a highway near Williston, Florida. In a blog post, Tesla stressed that the crash was the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles of Autopilot driving, compared to a death every 94 million miles for all cars.

The crash has also raised questions as to why Tesla didn’t disclose the fatality to investors before raising money for expanded production or proposing on June 21 to acquire of SolarCity. The SEC declined to comment Monday.

“Tesla has not received any communication from the SEC regarding this issue,” Tesla said Monday in an e-mail.

Tesla shares slipped 1.1% to $222.20 at 7:12 p.m. in after-market trading on Monday. The shares had gained 3.7% in the day’s trading after Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk tweeted over the weekend that he’s working on Part 2 of the company’s 10-year-old master plan.

Michigan driver Albert Scaglione, 77, suffered injuries when his 2016 Tesla Model X SUV struck a concrete median strip on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bedford County and rolled onto its roof, coming to rest in the middle of the roadway. Scaglione has not responded to numerous phone calls for comment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last week that it’s “collecting information” from state police, the automaker and the driver to ascertain “whether automated functions were in use at the time.” The Detroit Free Press had quoted a police officer saying the driver told him the so-called Autopilot system was engaged when the accident occurred. The Pennsylvania state police report released Monday doesn’t mention whether the system was in use at the time of the accident.

On July 9, an unidentified driver and passenger were traveling on Highway 2 east of Whitehall, Montana, when their Model X veered to the right and struck a guardrail, state police said. There were no injuries, but the right side of the electric vehicle was heavily damaged.

“He stated it was on Autopilot,” said Montana State Trooper Jade Shope in an interview Monday. “I can’t confirm that.” 

NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas declined to comment Monday on whether the agency would add the Montana crash to its Tesla Autopilot investigation. NHTSA frequently expands its reviews to include other incidents if they are deemed relevant. 

Autopilot, Tesla’s name for its driver-assistance system that maintains a vehicle’s position in a well-marked lane and adjusts speed to match surrounding traffic, is still in so-called beta testing. Drivers have to actively engage Autopilot, and the vehicles warn motorists to keep their hands on the wheel.

“Point of calling it ‘beta’,” Musk tweeted, “was to emphasize to those who chose to use it that it wasn’t perfect.”

By Dana Hull, with assistance from Alan Levin and Polina Noskova

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Licensed content from Bloomberg, copyright 2016.

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