Tesla Model X veers off highway into concrete barrier, kills driver

Occurred: March 2018

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A Tesla Model X driven to work by Apple engineer Wei 'Walter' Huang veered into a highway safety barrier in Mountain Valley, California, caught fire and was rear-ended by two other cars. Huang later died from injuries in Stanford Hospital. 

A few days after the crash, Tesla acknowledged in a blog post that the car's Autopilot driver-assistance system had been engaged at the time of the crash and that Huang's hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. 

Tesla's move violated an agreement between the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the automaker that Tesla would not comment on any crash during the course of the investigation and prompted the NTSB to remove the car maker as a party to its investigation. 

In April 2019, Huang's family filed a lawsuit against Tesla and California state alleging that Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system misread lane lines and failed to detect the safety barrier, in which the car accelerated rather than braked. The suit also accused Tesla of defective product design, and false advertising.

A 2020 NTSB investigation concluded that Autopilot was one of the probable causes of the crash, and that Huang had been 'overly confident' in the system's capabilities, evident in the fact that he had been playing a mobile game while using Autopilot before the crash. It also accused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of taking an overly hands-off approach to regulating automated driving systems.

In January 2023, Tesla senior engineer Ashok Elluswamy testified during the trial that a 2016 Tesla video used to promote Autopilot had been staged to show capabilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not have. 

Operator: Walter Huang
Developer: Tesla

Country: USA

Sector: Automotive

Purpose: Automate steering, acceleration, braking

Technology: Driver assistance system
Issue: Safety; Accuracy/reliability

Transparency: Black box; Marketing