At least this time the crash wasn't fatal.
Earlier this month, we learned of yet another Tesla Autopilot related crash in the US, this time in the state of Connecticut. For those who don't recall, early on the morning of December 7, a Tesla Model 3 was traveling on Interstate 95 when it struck a police car from behind. The Connecticut State Police officer had stopped to assist a disabled vehicle. And yes, the trooper's vehicle had its emergency lights activated.
Problem was, the Model 3's driver had engaged Autopilot and was not watching the road in front of him as he should have been. He was checking on his dog in the rear seat instead. This is not how Autopilot is supposed to work because it was not designed to offer full self-driving, but rather lane centering, adaptive cruise control, and self-parking.
And now, according to Reuters, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has officially opened an investigation into this incident where, fortunately, no one was killed. This latest crash is also the 12th Tesla crash that might be related to Autopilot. Since 2016, Tesla's Autopilot system has been engaged in at least three fatal crashes in the US and, so far, the NHTSA's special agency for crash investigations has examined all previous incidents. The driver of this latest one has already been issued a misdemeanor summons for Reckless Driving and Reckless Endangerment.
The NHTSA appears to be growing more concerned about Autopilot because there have been past related fatalities involved. In 2016, for example, there was a fatal crash in Florida in which Autopilot was engaged. Another prior crash investigation already ruled out Autopilot as a factor. This latest crash appears to be rather straightforward because, as previously noted, the driver misused Autopilot.
In 2018, the NHTSA determined this semi-autonomous driving system "permitted driver disengagement from the driving task," resulting in a non-fatal crash on a California highway. Like this latest incident, Autopilot was activated at the time of the crash and the driver was not holding the wheel.