Tesla driver claims autopilot was on when she crashed into patrol car, but we may never know

Troopers are asking Tesla, NHTSA for video and data

ORLANDO, Fla. – When a stopped Florida Highway patrol car and then a disabled Mercedes SUV were hit by a Tesla early Saturday morning on I-4 in downtown Orlando, the driver told troopers her Autopilot feature in her Tesla Model 3 was on.

The way the automated driving system works is the car stays in its lane, brakes and accelerates to keep up with traffic and avoid other cars using the car’s cameras and radar. It warns drivers after a few seconds to make sure they’re keeping their hands on the wheel and will turn off autopilot if drivers let go.

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Autopilot is supposed to stop the car or move over for all obstacles, including emergency vehicles but the Tesla driver told troopers that early Saturday morning her Tesla did not, even with the patrol car’s red and blue emergency lights flashing.

Now troopers are checking with Tesla.

“From what we hear they [Tesla] should be able to confirm whether or not this mode, auto mode whatever they call it, was active or inactive at the time of the impact,” FHP Lt. Kim Montes said. “Obviously we have to take the word of the driver to an extent, but we have the technology to pursue further and we’re going to attempt to do that.”

However, because no one was injured, the crash is not a criminal case so the driver must allow her Tesla crash data to be given to FHP.

Montes said the trooper pulled over in the right lane of I-4 behind an SUV that was stopped and then got out onto the highway to talk to the Mercedes driver. Had he gotten out of his patrol car a few seconds later, Montes said he would have been killed.

“We’re very lucky he was able to get out of the road, because after the impact with a Tesla and the patrol car, the Tesla kind of swung around and hit the disabled vehicle,” Montes said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed to News 6 it is aware of Saturday’s crash and “gathering information.”

NHTSA is now investigating 11 similar crashes in 9 states.

Crashes go back as far as Jan 2018, injuring 17 people, killing 1.

NHTSA says all 11 Tesla drivers were using Autopilot when their cars hit the emergency vehicles.

But in this latest crash, FHP crash investigators, NHTSA and Tesla must first verify if Autopilot was on to see what or who actually caused this crash.

Montes said the Tesla driver appeared alert and was not tired nor intoxicated.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for News 6 and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting.