Probe after ‘partially automated’ Tesla hits student getting off bus

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US road safety regulators have sent a team to investigate a crash involving a Tesla that may have been operating on a partially automated driving system when it struck a student who had just got off a school bus.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it will investigate the March 15 crash in Halifax County, North Carolina, which injured a 17-year-old student.

The State Highway Patrol said the driver of the 2022 Tesla Model Y, a 51-year-old man, failed to stop for the bus, which was displaying all its activated warning devices.

Sending special investigation teams to crashes means the agency suspects Teslas were operating systems that can handle some aspects of driving, including Autopilot and Full Self-Driving.

Despite the names, Tesla says these are driver-assist systems and drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.

Tesla Model Y
Tesla Model Y (Alamy/PA)

He was flown to hospital with life-threatening injuries but was listed in good condition two days after the crash.

The NHTSA has sent investigative teams to more than 30 crashes since 2016 in which Teslas suspected of operating on Autopilot or Full Self-Driving have struck pedestrians, motorcyclists, lorries and parked emergency vehicles. At least 14 people were killed in the crashes.

In March the agency sent a team to a February 18 crash in which a Tesla Model S hit a fire engine in Contra Costa County, California. The Tesla driver was killed, a passenger was seriously hurt and four firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Authorities said the fire engine had its lights on and was parked diagonally on a highway to protect responders to an earlier accident.

The probes are part of a larger investigation by the NHTSA into multiple instances of Teslas using Autopilot crashing into parked emergency vehicles that were tending to other crashes.

The administration has become more aggressive in pursuing safety problems with Teslas in the past year, announcing multiple recalls and investigations.

The NHTSA is investigating how the Autopilot system detects and responds to emergency vehicles parked on roads.

Earlier this month the agency revealed an investigation of steering wheels that can detach from the steering column on as many as 120,000 Model Y SUVs. It is also investigating seat belts that may not be anchored securely in some Teslas.

NHTSA has also opened investigations during the past three years into Teslas braking suddenly for no reason, suspension problems and other issues.

In February, the agency pressured Tesla into recalling nearly 363,000 vehicles with Full Self-Driving software because the system could break traffic laws. The problem was to be fixed with an online software update.

The system is being tested on public roads by as many as 400,000 Tesla owners, but the NHTSA said in documents that it can make unsafe actions such as travelling straight through a junction from a turn-only lane, going through a yellow traffic light without proper caution or failing to respond to speed limit changes.

The US Justice Department has also asked Tesla for documents about Full Self-Driving and Autopilot.

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