Tesla On Autopilot Crashes Into Police Car

Highway Patrol Sheriff's car
Photo Credit: NC State Patrol

There are no true self-driving cars yet, and a Tesla driver in North Carolina allegedly found this out the hard way. He was reportedly watching a movie in his car while auto-pilot was engaged, when his vehicle plowed into a Sheriff Deputy’s car. No one was hurt.

WNCN TV reports the accident happened just after midnight on Wednesday, August 26.

The impact sent the deputy’s cruiser into the trooper’s vehicle – which pushed the trooper and deputy to the ground. The deputy was conducting an overnight lane closure at the time.

The vehicle was on auto-pilot, according to the Highway Patrol. It says Tesla’s driver, identified as Raleigh doctor Devainder Goli, said he was watching a movie on his phone while the car was on auto-pilot when the collision occurred.

“Thankfully no one was injured,” the Trooper Jeff Wilson of the Highway Patrol told CBS 17.

Goli was charged with move over law violation and viewing a television device in a vehicle.

“It was a simple lane closure and then suddenly death was at our footsteps,” said Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone.

The sheriff told WNCN TV that the accident should serve as a wakeup call.

“It shows automation is never going to take the place of the motoring public paying attention, not texting, not being on the phone, but focusing on what you were doing, that is, driving,” said Stone.

Tesla Crashes

This isn’t the first crash involving the Tesla autopilot system. Most recently, in July 2020, an Arizona state trooper’s cruiser was reportedly hit by Tesla on autopilot.

In another case, an Apple engineer was killed in 2018 when his Tesla crashed into a concrete barrier separating highway and exit lanes. THE NTSB said he was playing a videogame on his smartphone at the time with the auto-pilot engaged.

What’s In a Name

Researchers with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety say there is a lot of confusion about semi-autonomous driving systems and it blames names for some of that.

“What they name the system has implications for what a driver understands,” said IIHS President David Harkey.

In June 2019, IIHS surveyed more than 2,000 drivers and found a name like “autopilot” creates misconceptions. The study looked at Level 2 systems: Autopilot (used by Tesla), Traffic Jam Assist (Audi and Acura), Super Cruise (Cadillac), Driving Assistant Plus (BMW) and ProPilot Assist (Nissan).

Percent of drivers who considered behaviors safe while Level 2 system is in operation:

June 2019 IIHS survey
Source: IIHS/June 2019

“Almost half of the survey respondents indicated they would take their hands off the steering wheel, and almost 6 percent thought they could take a nap while the system was in autopilot,” said Harkey.

The IIHS recommended changing the names of systems like autopilot to something less likely to delude drivers into thinking cars will drive themselves.

On its website, Tesla says “current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
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