- Federal motor vehicle safety officials have launched a special accident investigation to determine the cause of a fatal collision involving a Tesla Model S and a fire truck in February 2023.
- The Model S driver died, a passenger was critically injured and four firefighters were taken to the hospital immediately after the crash, according to California Highway Patrol and Contra Costa County Fire Department records.
- The new investigation is part of a broader federal investigation into the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot systems and how they operate around parked emergency vehicles.
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District
Federal motor vehicle safety officials opened a new, special accident investigation into a fatal collision involving a Tesla Model S sedan and a fire truck in Walnut Creek, California, last month, CNBC has confirmed.
The driver of the Tesla died, a passenger was critically injured and four firefighters who were inside the fire truck were taken to a hospital after the crash, according to records obtained by CNBC from the California Highway Patrol and Contra Costa County Fire Department.
The Associated Press first reported on the special investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
According to fire department records following the Feb. 18 incident, the fire truck was parked in the middle of an interstate freeway to protect other first responders who were towing a disabled vehicle from the area when the Tesla vehicle crashed into it.
NHTSA and CHP have each opened separate investigations into the crash.
The CHP wrote in a statement after the fatal incident, “It is unclear if drug or alcohol influence is a factor in this crash. It was unable to determine at the scene if the Tesla was being operated with any driver assistance or automation activated at the time of the crash.”
Both the CHP and NHTSA want to know whether Tesla’s driver assistance systems, marketed as Autopilot and full self-driving capabilities in the US, caused the crash.
All new Tesla vehicles in the US come with a standard driver assistance package called Autopilot. Customers who pay Tesla a monthly subscription fee of $199 or $15,000 up front can also get additional driver assistance features as part of a premium package called FSD, which stands for Full Self-Driving. Tesla allows FSD customers to also sign up for FSD Beta, which is a way to test new features that haven’t been completely bugged out on public roads.
Despite their brand names, Tesla is not making a driverless vehicle or system. The company warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take over steering or braking at any time.
The crash investigation is part of a comprehensive NHTSA investigation into Tesla’s driver assistance systems and how they operate around parked emergency vehicles.
According to records on the agency’s website, NHTSA opened a “preliminary evaluation” of Tesla’s Autopilot systems on August 13, 2021. “The opening of the investigation was motivated by an accumulation of accidents in which Tesla vehicles operating with Autopilot engaged hit stationary in – first aid vehicles on road or roadside tending to pre-existing collision scenes,” it said.
According to the NHTSA report, at least 14 Teslas have crashed into emergency vehicles while using the Autopilot system.
NHTSA expanded the probe to an “engineering analysis” in the spring of 2022 to determine whether Tesla’s systems may “exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of driver monitoring.”
In layman’s terms, NHTSA is trying to determine whether Tesla’s Autopilot, FSD and other driver assistance features cause drivers to become so distracted from the road that they would drive more safely without them.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. NHTSA does not comment on open investigations.