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AUTOMAKERTESLA UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION FOLLOWING FATAL CRASH OF SUV ON AUTOPILOT
T esla stock plummeted last month following news that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) opened up an investigation into automaker Tesla after a fatal crash took place involving a Tesla Model X SUV. The fatal crash took place Friday, March 23. According to police, a Model X SUV driven by 38-year-old Wei Huang crashed into a highway barrier in Palo Alto, California, and was subsequently hit by two other vehicles. Huang later died after being transported to a hospital. Tesla stated that Huang had their Autopilot program engaged at the time of the crash, he "received several visual and one audible hands-on warning" prior to the crash, and that his hands were not detected on the steering wheel for the six seconds before the collision. Autopilot is a program that allows for the vehicle to drive itself under careful driver supervision. Complicating the incident is the fact that a highway safety barrier was not in place in front of the concrete divider, greatly increasing the severity of the impact. Tesla officials stated that they had never seen such catastrophic damage to any Model X in any other crash. The Model X is the only SUV to ever achieve a perfect five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Tesla released a blog post stating that other Tesla vehicles had driven the same stretch of road with Autopilot engaged about 85,000 times since 2015 with no known accidents. Later, on April 10, the company released a statement saying that
"the crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so." Huang's family has hired a lawyer for the matter, and they are planning on suing Tesla once the NTSB completes its report. The attorney, Mike Fong, stated that the Tesla SUV's "sensors misread the painted lane lines on the road, and its braking system failed to detect a stationary object ahead." After the crash, the Tesla's lithium-ion battery caught fire, also prompting safety concerns from the NTSB. Though the driver had already been extricated
from the vehicle before it caught fire, emergency responders had to consult Tesla engineers before extinguishing the battery fire due to their unfamiliarity with the battery technology. Tesla stated after the incident that their batteries are designed so that any fires would spread slowly, giving occupants plenty of time to exit the vehicle. This is the second NTSB investigation into Tesla this year alone. Another investigation was opened in January after a Tesla Model S sedan crashed into a stopped firetruck on a Los Angeles highway.
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