Tesla Model X veers off highway into concrete barrier, killing 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 Autopilot 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 NTSB and the automaker that Tesla would not comment on any crash during the course of the investigation and prompted the US National Transportation Safety Board (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 US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation concluded that Tesla’s Autopilot system 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.

The NTSB also accused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of taking to much of a 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; Tesla
Developer: Tesla

Country: USA

Sector: Automotive

Purpose: Automate steering, acceleration, braking

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

Transparency: Black box; Marketing

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: March 2023