Incident 221: A Road Engineer Killed Following a Collision Involving a Tesla on Autopilot
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Tesla driver admits he was not paying attention while autopilot was engaged.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Tesla on autopilot collided with a maintenance vehicle on a highway in Taoyuan moments before a worker responding to the accident was fatally struck by a BMW.
At 9:51 p.m. on Monday evening (March 8), a 46-year-old man surnamed Chiang (江) was seated behind the wheel of a white Tesla with its autopilot feature engaged at the 63-kilometer mark on National Highway 3 near the Daxi Interchange in Taoyuan City, reported UDN. The vehicle's sensors apparently failed to detect a bright yellow road repair truck, despite its large reflectors and digital sign, and slammed into its rear.
The Tesla sedan spun across the inner lanes of the freeway, and a 25-year-old worker surnamed Yu (俞) immediately rushed forward and put down traffic cones to alert drivers to the accident. However, 20 seconds later a blue BMW driven by a 40-year-old man, also surnamed Chiang (江), struck Yu, inflicting severe injuries.
Yu was rushed to the Taoyuan Armed Forces General Hospital but was soon declared dead. The Tesla driver's left hand was injured, and the driver of the BMW reported head pain.
Police said breathalyzer tests revealed the drivers' blood alcohol level to be zero. The Tesla driver admitted to officers that after he had switched on the autopilot feature, he was not paying attention to the situation on the road, while the BMW driver said he had not noticed the worker until it was too late to stop.
Officers reminded the public that driver assistance systems are auxiliary functions and urged motorists to remain alert at all times when using automatic driving technology. The two drivers are being investigated for offenses against public safety (公共危險罪).
Tesla said a software update would fix the issues with its heat pumps. It didn’t. The company also tried to dismiss an NHTSA investigation for crashing against emergency vehicles on Autopilot with another OTA (over-the-air) update. A wreck in Taiwan shows the new software probably did not resolve the situation either.
On March 7, a Tesla Model 3 was driving on the National Highway 3 near the Daxi Interchange in Taoyuan City. His driver activated Autopilot and later confessed to the police that he was doing other things in the car and did not pay attention to the road anymore. A while later, the vehicle failed to detect the road repair truck against which it crashed at 9:51 PM, local time. The Model 3 spun to the middle of the road.
According to UDN and the pictures shared by the National Highway Police Bureau, it was a bright yellow truck with large reflectors. It also had a digital warning sign to prevent precisely what happened with the Model 3. The 46-year-old Tesla driver reportedly only hurt his hand in the crash. His last name is Jiang.
The road engineer at the location tried to protect the middle lanes by placing crash warnings before the crashed Tesla as soon as possible. About 20 seconds after that, a BMW driver also named Jiang failed to see the sign and hit the engineer and the Tesla. The road engineer died. His name was Yu.
In this case, the fatal victim was not a direct responsibility of the Tesla vehicle. Ironically, it was a preventable situation had the BMW driver paid due attention to the road conditions just as much as the Tesla driver. Distracted driving is a massive problem all over the world with nasty consequences. Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to prevent it apart from more rigorous driver training. It is not under investigation. Tesla Autopilot is.
Theoretically, the system should be able to see a bright yellow emergency truck right in front of it. It should be able to brake the car to prevent a crash. Above all, it should not allow a driver to feel so confident it will handle everything to the point this person confesses to the police that was exactly the case.
Soon after Tesla released the software update that was supposed to prevent its vehicles from crashing against emergency vehicles, its advocates and investors started asking if the press would write about that and about how fast the company “solved” the problem. Rest assured that you will not hear them talk about this crash in Taiwan or similar situations in other countries, especially if it happens again in the U.S.
NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) allowed that to happen 11 times, 7 of which ended up with injured people and one dead. Unfortunately, this case in Taiwan is out of NHTSA’s jurisdiction, which does not prevent the safety agency from contacting Taiwan’s National Highway Police Bureau to understand what happened at the National Highway 3 on March 7. Let’s hope international cooperation is not an issue in this case.