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Federal Agency Investigates Tesla Crash; Driver Says Car Was On Autopilot

The driver of the Tesla Model S told police the car was in Autopilot mode as it rammed into a Utah fire department truck on May 11 in South Jordan, Utah.
South Jordan Police Department via AP
The driver of the Tesla Model S told police the car was in Autopilot mode as it rammed into a Utah fire department truck on May 11 in South Jordan, Utah.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Wednesday it has launched an investigation into a rear-end collision involving a Tesla in South Jordan, Utah, the Associated Press reported. It marks at least the third investigation into crashes involving the company's cars since March.

The driver of the Tesla Model S toldpolice the car was in Autopilot, a semi-autonomous mode, and that she was staring at her phone when the sedan plowed into the back of a Utah fire department truck stopped at a red light. The 28-year-old driver, who said she was going about 60 mph, sustained a broken ankle while the truck's driver suffered minor injuries.

"Consistent with NHTSA's oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, the agency has launched its special crash investigations team to gather information on the South Jordan, Utah, crash. NHTSA will take appropriate action based on its review," the agency said, as quoted by CNBC.

Car company owner, Elon Musk said in a tweetTuesday, "It's super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage."

Minutes later he added, "What's actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60mph and the driver only broke an ankle. An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death."

The electric car company cautions drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and remain vigilant even while the vehicle is in semi-autonomous mode.

Just last week, the agency opened investigation into a Florida crash where the same model Tesla caught fire, trapping and killing two men and injuring a third after ramming into a concrete wall.

"The vehicle immediately caught on fire, becoming fully engulfed in flames. The speed of which the vehicle was traveling is believed to have been a factor in the crash," Fort Lauderdale Police said in a statement.

Meanwhile, NHTSA investigators are still scrutinizing the conditions leading to fatal wreck in March in California, where Tesla's Autopilot system was in use. In that case, the Model X SUV collided head-on into a roadside barrier and caught fire. The driver was pulled out of the car but did not survive.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.