A Tesla sedan running in its autopilot mode crashed into a parked police car in Laguna Beach, California on Tuesday, per the Associated Press, resulting in “minor injuries” to the driver. The officer in charge of the cruiser at the time of the crash was not inside the vehicle and thus avoided being injured.
[Police Sgt. Jim Cota] said the luxury electric car crashed in almost the same place as another Tesla about a year ago. The driver, he said, also pointed to the Autopilot system as being engaged.
The crash comes as Tesla has been facing scrutiny involving Autopilot. Since March, a driver died when his Model X SUV crossed the center divider in Mountain View, Calif., while in Autopilot mode. And another driver in Salt Lake City was injured in a crash when her car hit a parked fire truck. In both cases, Tesla says it can tell from its logs that drivers were either distracted or ignored the car’s warnings to take control.
Tesla has repeatedly emphasized that the autopilot system is only intended to assist, not replace, an alert human driver, and requires drivers to agree that they understand how to use it before it can be activated. It also insists the accidents are primarily the result of human error, not the autopilot feature itself. In a statement to USA Today, the manufacturer wrote, “When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times.”
In April, Bloomberg reported that safety advocates were becoming increasingly skeptical of Tesla’s claims that autopilot mode reduced crashes by 40 percent, saying the company was misrepresenting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data that itself was not fully released to the public. By May, the NHTSA was publicly distancing itself from Tesla’s use of the statistic.
Though engineers say that self-driving cars are likely going to be safer than human-piloted ones—humans are in the aggregate very unsafe drivers—there’s something about either the concept or the companies developing them that seems to send up red flags in the minds of the public. A recent AAA study found that 73 percent of respondents didn’t trust the cars in April 2018, following a string of accidents involving Tesla autopilot as well a lethal accident in March involving a self-driving Uber vehicle.