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Utah Tesla driver had hands off wheel before crash

Utah Tesla driver had hands off wheel before crash

A Tesla sedan with a semi-autonomous Autopilot feature rear-ended a fire department truck at 60 miles per hour (97 kph) apparently without braking before impact on May 11, 2018, but police say it's unknown if the Autopilot feature was engaged.

The May 11 accident appears to be a textbook case of distracted driving exacerbated by technology that, despite providing visual and audio warnings to drivers, is easy for humans to abuse.

Tesla said drivers are repeatedly advised Autopilot features do not make Tesla vehicles "autonomous" and that the driver absolutely must remain vigilant with their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and they must be prepared to take any and all action necessary to avoid hazards on the road.

"When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times", said a Tesla spokeswoman.

The driver, who suffered a broken foot in the accident, has not been identified.

Furthermore, it's now the fourth investigation into a crash involving a Tesla vehicle in just 2 months, which might be a record.

The police said the Tesla Model S during that day's trip registered more than a dozen instances of the driver's hands being off the steering wheel.

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Utah Tesla driver had hands off wheel before crash

According to the South Jordan Police Department's summary of its technician's findings, the 28-year-old driver had repeatedly enabled and disabled the Autopilot throughout the course of her drive.

The driver had previously told police that she had engaged the autopilot and was "looking at her phone prior to the collision".

Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot system is supposed to detect nearby cars and objects to avoid collisions, but the company said the feature shouldn't be used on roads with intersections, stop signs, red lights or suddenly changing traffic patterns, according to the vehicle maker's user manuals. "She did not touch the steering wheel for the next 80 seconds until the crash happened".

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it's investigating the crash. She was issued a traffic infraction for failing to keep proper lookout. According to the summary released by police, the driver pressed on the brake herself "fractions of a second prior to the crash" and the auto had not slowed down from the speed she had set for cruise control.

Both NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board assisted local police in the investigation.

Among accidents to make headlines was a fiery March 23 crash in California that involved its "Autopilot" feature. According to the results shared by the organization, which is presently carrying out safety tests of the Model 3, the electric vehicle from Tesla Motors has achieved a 'superior rating for front crash prevention'.

Follow USA TODAY tech writer Marco della Cava on Twitter.

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