But Tesla says that cannot be the case.
A Texas woman has been left speechless and confused after the Tesla Model Y she was driving crashed in a rather bizarre manner. Swarajyalaxmi Rao said the day started like any other. Driving her sister's week-old electric SUV, the pair made their way over to her son's house, where all sorts of chaos ensued.
"I was going very slow, and all of a sudden, this Tesla car, like accelerated by itself and hit the car in front - that's my son's car," she explained to news agency KXAN. CCTV footage captured the entire incident. Rao can be seen slowly approaching her son's driveway. Suddenly, the car accelerates into the parked vehicle.
But that's not the scariest part of the incident. Out of nowhere, the Model Y takes off in reverse and slams into a garage across the street.
Swarajyalaxmi's son, Jai, said he was inside at the time of the accident. "I hear a loud bang," he recounts. "'Woah, what happened?' And then I hear a screech, and then I hear another loud bang." The driver claims the freak incident was not her fault, claiming it reversed at high speed by itself before smashing into the neighbor's garage.
"All this time, I didn't know what [was] happening. I was braking," said Swarajyalaxmi. The crash caused plenty of destruction: Jai's car requires $3,730 in repairs, while the neighbor's car sustained around $8,000 worth of damage. The garage estimate sits between $22,000 and $27,000. The Tesla is presumably repairable.
"I was so scared that night because usually, kids play [in] that area, and I'm so thankful to God, you know, [that] nothing happened to anybody. Even we're not injured," said Swarajyalaxmi.
The accident, which happened in May, was brought up at a conference where Tesla's Ashok Elluswamy used the case in a presentation. Elluswamy said the driver unintentionally depressed the accelerator, first in drive and then in reverse. He also noted that the car was not in Autopilot mode. However, the company spokesperson neglected to mention how Tesla got to this conclusion.
This contrasts sharply with Swarajyalaxmi's side of the story. "I didn't do anything. It was on manual, and I did not do any reverse" (sic). Despite the automaker's stance, Swarajyalaxmi is convinced the car was at fault. "There is a problem," she said. "I want to find out [what it is], and Tesla should find out. This is going to happen to other people."
Many will be quick to dismiss the incident as yet another case of careless driving, but unintended acceleration woes have haunted Tesla for many years.
For an expert opinion, KXAN took the case to Dragan Djurdjanovic. A professor in mechanical engineering, Djurdjanovic looked into similar allegations against Tesla around 2008. The expert said it's very possible that electromagnetic interference between wires caused the accident.
"You press the pedal, and the electric command goes to the car," explained the professor. "And there could be a breakage in that electric link." He surmises that "the car obviously understood that the car command was given to it to go backwards (sic). And not only not to brake but to accelerate. So, one needs to know both where the pedals were and what the command was and see if there's discrepancy."
Djurdjanovic says the truth is most likely in Tesla's data. The automaker has denied the Rao family's request for the crash data.
But for Swarajyalaxmi and Jai, that's unacceptable. The family wants a formal investigation so that something like this doesn't happen to someone else. "At minimum, I would hope they would want to look into it deeply enough that they understand why this happened and make sure their cars don't do that again," she said. "Please, Tesla, if you are listening, come out, investigate."
The family has submitted a report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The government agency is no stranger to Tesla-related complaints and has received more than 750 complaints from disgruntled owners who allege unintended braking when in Autopilot mode.
Whether this unfortunate incident can be chalked up to driver error or vehicle malfunction remains to be seen. However, Tesla has previously rolled out an OTA update for Obstacle-Aware Acceleration, which limits acceleration if the vehicle detects an obstacle at low speed.