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Musk said that no self-driving Tesla had ever crashed. The regulators had counted 8

Elon Musk has long used his mighty Twitter megaphone to amplify the idea that Tesla’s automated driving software is not only safe, it’s safer than anything a human driver can accomplish.

That campaign was launched last fall when the electric carmaker expanded its full autonomous driving “beta” program from a few thousand people to a fleet that now has over 100,000. The $12,000 feature purportedly allows a Tesla to drive itself on highways and neighborhood streets, changing lanes, turning, and obeying traffic signals and signals.

As critics berated Musk for testing experimental technology on public roads without trained safety drivers as backup, Santa Monica investment manager and vocal Tesla promoter Ross Gerber was one of the allies who jumped to his defense.

“There hasn’t been an accident or injury since the release of the beta version of FSD”, hey tweeted in January. “Not one. Not one.”

To which Musk responded with a single word: “Right.”

In fact, at the time, dozens of drivers had already filed safety complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for incidents related to full autonomous driving, and at least eight of them involved accidents. The complaints are in the public domain, in a database on the NHTSA website.

One driver reported that the FSD automatically “slipped right into a semi” before accelerating into a center pole, causing an accident.

“The car went into the wrong lane” with the FSD activated “and I was hit by another driver in the lane next to my car,” said another.

YouTube and Twitter are full of videos revealing FSD misbehavior, including a recent one mail which appears to show a Tesla heading into the path of an oncoming train. The driver pulls on the steering wheel to avoid a head-on collision.

It is nearly impossible for anyone other than Tesla to say how many FSD-related accidents, injuries, or deaths have occurred; NHTSA is investigating several recent fatal accidents in which she may have been involved. The agency recently ordered automakers to report serious accidents involving automated and semi-automated technology to the agency, but has not yet released details of each accident to the public.

Robot car companies like Cruise, Waymo, Argo and Zoox are equipped with wireless software that immediately reports accidents to the company. Tesla pioneered this type of software in passenger cars, but the company, which does not have a media relations office, did not respond to questions about whether it receives automatic reports of faults from cars running on FSDs. Automakers without wireless software must rely on public reports and communications with drivers and service centers to judge whether an NHTSA report is necessary.

Attempts to contact Musk were also unsuccessful.

Gerber said he was not aware of any crash reports in the NHTSA database when he posted his tweet, but believed the company was aware of any collisions. “Because of the fact that Tesla records everything that happens, Tesla is aware of every incident,” he said. He said it was possible the drivers were at fault for the crashes, but he hadn’t checked the reports himself.

There are no accurate public statistics on automated car accidents because the police officers who write the accident reports only refer to the driver’s statements. “We’re not experts on how to extract that kind of data,” said Amber Davis, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol. “At the end of the day, we are asking for the best memories of how [a crash] happened.”

Only Tesla knows exactly what data a Tesla vehicle’s automated driving system collects and transmits, said Mahmood Hikmet, head of research and development at autonomous transportation company Ohmio. He said Musk’s definition of a crash or an accident might differ from how an insurance company or average person would define it. The NHTSA requires accident reporting for fully or partially automated vehicles only if someone is injured, an airbag deploys, or a car needs to be towed.

The FSD flaw reports were first discovered by FSD critic Taylor Ogan, who runs Snow Bull Capital, a China-oriented hedge fund. The Times separately downloaded and evaluated the data to verify Ogan’s findings.

The data, which covers a period from January 1, 2021 to January 16, 2022, shows dozens of safety complaints about FSD, including many reports of phantom braking, in which a car’s automatic emergency braking system brakes abruptly for no apparent reason.

Below are excerpts from the eight accident reports in which FSD was involved:

  • Southampton, New York: A Model 3 traveling 60 mph crashed into a parked SUV on the shoulder of the road. The Tesla was driven “straight through the side of the SUV, ripping the car’s mirror off.” The driver called Tesla to say “our car had gone crazy.”
  • Houston: A Model 3 was traveling 35 mph “when the car suddenly jumped onto the curb, causing bumper damage, wheel damage, and a flat tire.” The accident “appeared to have been caused by a discolored patch in the road that gave FSD the false perception of an obstacle it was trying to avoid.” In denying a warranty claim, a Tesla service center charged $2,332.37 and said it would not return the car until the bill was paid.
  • pitch: “While making a left turn, the car went into the wrong lane and another driver hit me in the lane next to my car.” The car “single-handedly took control and forced itself to change lanes… putting everyone involved at risk. The car is severely damaged on the driver’s side.”
  • Collettsville, North Carolina: “The road was curving to the left and as the car rounded the curve it took a wide turn and went off the road… The right side of the car went up and over the beginning of a rocky incline. The right front tire blew out and only the side air bags (both sides) deployed. The car went about 500 yards down the road and then it turned off.” Estimated damage was $28,000 to $30,000.
  • Troy, Missouri: A Tesla was turning a curve when “suddenly, about 40% of the way through the curve, the Model Y straightened its wheel and crossed the centerline into the direct path of the oncoming vehicle. When I tried to get the vehicle back into my lane, I lost control and skidded into a ditch and through the woods, causing significant damage to the vehicle.”
  • Jackson, Missouri: A Model 3 “turned right into a semi, then turned left into poles in the median while accelerating and the FSD would not turn off… We had this car for 11 days when our accident happened.”
  • Hercules, California: “Ghost braking” brought the Tesla to a sudden stop and “the vehicle behind me didn’t react.” A rear-end collision caused “serious vehicle damage.”
  • Dallas: “I was driving with fully autonomous driving assistance… a car was in my blind spot so I tried to take control of the car by pulling on the steering wheel. The car sounded an alarm indicating that it was going to hit the median on the left. I think I was fighting with the car to regain control of the car and ended up hitting the left median which bounced off.[ed] the car all the way to the right, hitting the median.”

Critics say that the name Full Self-Driving is a misnomer and that no car available for sale to a person in the US can drive itself. FSD “is entirely a fantasy,” said New York University professor Meredith Broussard, author of the book “Artificial Unintelligence,” published by MIT Press. “And it’s a security nightmare.”

California regulations prohibit a company from advertising a car as fully autonomous when it is not. The state Department of Motor Vehicles is conducting a review of Tesla’s marketing, a review that is in its second year.

DMV Chief Steve Gordon has refused to speak publicly on the matter since May 2021. On Wednesday, the department said, “The review is ongoing. I’ll let you know when we have something to share.”



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